The St. Louis Blues were quite excited when Zachary Bolduc fell into their lap during the 2021 draft. He was a highly touted prospect that could have been a lottery pick.
As with any prospect, there are questions surrounding him. A big one is whether his talents will translate at center for the pro game or whether he will need to switch to winger.
Of course, for most fans, there is always a big question with draft picks. Despite plenty of promise, when can we actually see him?
It’s actually kind of a hard question to answer, and that’s not trying to shirk the responsibility. The Blues are in an interesting phase where they remain in a championship window, but they do need their prospects to start hitting with more regularity.
While draft picks such as Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and, so far, Jordan Kyrou, all look like big hits, there’s been some misses. Klim Kostin‘s shine has worn off quite a bit due to the team not seeing fit to give him a real look – one has to assume there’s a good reason. Erik Johnson is the highest of profile picks that did not pan out, especially when you take into consideration who the Blues could have had.
That’s in the past. The team hopes Bolduc will be their future, but the question is when.
Ideally, it would not be too soon. If the current Blues are holding Bolduc at bay, that means they are having success and success almost always means winning games.
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Bolduc is talented. In two seasons in the QMJHL, he’s averaged close to a point a game with a good amount of goals scored.
He’s got decent size and power, coming in at 6’2 and a hard shot, which the Blues need. He’s also young, at just 18 right now. That means he has room to grow physically, but also needs room to grow as a player. Thus, you don’t want to rush him.
On 101 ESPN radio, Jamie Rivers said Bolduc might get a look with the Blues as early as the 2022-23 season. While that’s possible, it seems early.
The Blues will still have a good amount of players signed through that year, but there will be slots available. David Perron, Zach Sanford, Kyle Clifford and Mackenzie MacEachern will all be unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2022. If Bolduc is as good as the team hopes, he should be an upgrade from all of those names except Perron.
The unknown is how he would handle a change and how big that change would be. If the Blues have any intention of giving him a look in 2022-23, he needs to play in the AHL this coming season. The jump from Canadian juniors to the NHL is simply too great unless you are a transcendent talent.
It’s not unheard of to make that jump – Alex Pietrangelo did it – but if he heads back to the junior ranks for one more season, I would see it as two more seasons, at least, before he gets a good look at the NHL.
For me, 2023-24 is a much more realistic timeframe for this player. The Blues have proven they are willing to wait on guys too.
Other franchises would have given a longer look to Kostin long ago. St. Louis, knowing they don’t HAVE to have him, wants to get him as polished and confident in a certain style as he can be before really locking him into the NHL. Unless trades thin out certain spots, I would expect something similar with Bolduc.
It’s all well and good to say he’s a shooter and the Blues need shooters right now. The fact remains that, in recent history, the team has simply not elevated players quickly. They’ve taken the pragmatic approach and it’s very likely to remain the same as long as Doug Armstrong is in charge.
If nothing else, it might benefit the Blues pipeline to let him stay for a bit. Once Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou got brought up, the cupboard in the minors and below felt quite bare.
Sometimes it’s nice to have that blue chip down there that you can argue with your fellow fan about. When you know that all the talent is in the NHL, it’s a little bit worrying.
Let Bolduc develop. Let him try out both center and wing at the pro level in the AHL before he makes the jump. The versatility will be beneficial down the road.