Life as a big-time prospect didn't exactly get off to a smooth start for Matt Boldy.
After the Wild drafted him 12th overall during the first round in 2019, Boldy's collegiate debut was underwhelming and the Massachusetts native wasn't invited to compete for the Americans at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
"USA Hockey made the decision, and I respect it," Boldy said. "But obviously some disappointment there."
But a year later, Boldy looks like a lock for the U.S. roster, which will be announced Sunday before the team departs for the World Juniors bubble in Edmonton where the action begins later this month.
He's poised to enter the tournament with a high profile after a tremendous kickoff to his sophomore season at Boston College.
"Just the confidence I have this year, it's a little bit more than last year and [I'm] more comfortable in the position," Boldy said earlier this week on a video call from the U.S. camp in Plymouth, Mich. "I think you can translate [that] to the tournament, definitely, and see what happens and hope for the best."
Before he presumably joins the U.S.'s pretournament camp, Boldy was on a roll in the NCAA.
He was among the top producers in the country with three goals and five assists through four games. After chipping in two goals and two assists last weekend to help Boston College improve to 4-0, the 19-year-old winger was named Hockey East's co-player of the week — this after also receiving player of the week honors the previous week.
Already, his goal output has eclipsed what he accomplished in the first few months of his freshman season when he scored just two goals in his first 25 games. But Boldy was able to close out his inaugural campaign on the upswing.
His 23 points the last 2½ months of last season ranked third nationally among freshmen, and Boldy tallied seven goals and eight assists in his final nine games before college hockey was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.
"I'm more confident in my game, in myself," the 6-2, 194-pound Boldy explained, "and I'm able to go out there and play a little bit more freely."
Boldy attributes that swell of confidence to the training he did during the longer-than-normal offseason during which he concentrated on playing faster.
A skill like that can no doubt accelerate his development at Boston College but also spur him to make a splash in a short tournament like the World Juniors, where Boldy could face off against a handful of other Wild prospects such as Marco Rossi (Austria), Adam Beckman (Canada) and Marat Khusnutdinov (Russia).
The action begins with preliminary rounds on Christmas Day.
"Being able to process the game a little bit faster, I think that's something I worked on this summer," Boldy said. "Just the quicker you can do things at the highest pace, the easier it's going to be when you get to the games. [I] did that a lot this summer. It's really helped."
And while this progress has brightened the spotlight on Boldy, capturing a gold medal with Team USA would make the World Juniors experience a success regardless of how he performed individually — an opportunity to represent his country that he previously missed out on.
"It kind of lit a fire under me," Boldy said about not being on the team last year, "and forced me to keep pushing and finding ways to be better, which I think obviously worked out well. Hopefully, I can make it this year and see what I can do."