Andy
Lehoux
June 12, 2021

Deep Dive: A look into Zachary Bolduc’s game

In what was an extremely turbulent season, the battle offered from the top 2021 NHL Draft eligibles from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League seemed to have been even more chaotic.

Between Zachary Bolduc, Zachary L’Heureux, Zach Dean and Xavier Bourgault, all showcased snippets of their full talent, but either failed to display any sort of consistency, or presented glaring drawbacks as top prospects. Despite multiple injuries and some erratic performances, Bolduc has flashed the highest potential of the group. His goalscoring prowess, smarts in traffic and defensive anticipation were on full display this year, which earns him my vote for the top QMJHL draft eligible.

But what’s the full prize with Bolduc? Which areas of his game could allow him to leave his mark at the next level, and what tendencies will he need to fix before making the jump?

Having watched every game of his this season, and collected hours of clips, here’s my best attempt at breaking down his game.

Goalscoring Potential

Bolduc is a talented scorer who absolutely relishes shooting the puck.

His primary objective every shift is to find the back of the net, and he’ll go out of his way to throw as many pucks on goal as possible to make it happen. In a game where chaos rules over anything, Bolduc jumps on every occasion to create havoc in front and increase his lottery rolls. He bets on quantity over quality, firing relentlessly until luck eventually falls back on his side. In fact, the 6-foot-1 attacker leads all Q draft eligible in shot attempts, and is second only to L’Heureux in shots on goal.

Although Bolduc enjoys and sometimes even prefers sharing the puck, his enthusiasm blasting pucks on net makes him a constant scoring menace.

He has the green light to fire all kinds of shots from pretty much anywhere up the ice, which requires continuous attention from opposing defenses. The 175-pound forward is persistent in his attacks, frequently following a blocked shot with another try. His aggressive scoring instincts can completely disturb defenses as shot after shot, opportunities will arise. Here’s a great example of him launching pucks at the net, which, after a few tries, creates the rebound opportunity.

His remarkable determination to repeatedly bombard goaltenders with shots can only be overshadowed by the way he finds his opportunities.

His ability to transform any possession into a shot attempt is second to none, from finding shooting lanes in tight coverage to parking himself in open spots. The left-handed winger showcased decisiveness in transition to fire rapidly if given the room. Anytime a defenseman would move his stick away from his shooting pocket, to cut the passing lane instead, Bolduc would punish them by snapping off a lightning-quick wrister.

Bolduc’s eagerness to create scoring opportunities frequently forced him into generating his own chances. He uses slick moves to give himself wiggle room to deliver the puck, regularly flipping the puck past sticks or maneuvering between traffic the locate the shooting lane. Bolduc will need to soften his mitts to be more efficient in his dekes attempts, but the creativity and tenacity shown is inspiring.

The following clips are examples of his dedication to exploit opportunities, and shot creation capabilities. I’ll let you enjoy the first one at your own risk and peril, as it’s absolutely breathtaking.

What’s even more valuable, though, is his capacity to discover and venture through open spots. Bolduc cherishes making himself available as a setup option, following counterattacks closely and cruising through high-danger areas on the cycle.

His spontaneous, dynamic positioning allows him to flow with the offense smoothly and slip into openings effortlessly. Bolduc also excels at stepping away from a defender at the right moment to make himself available on the catch and shoot. He’s at his best when he steps up in high-danger areas, which although one of his assets is still an inconsistent part of his game. Bolduc loves to circle around the right side of the ice, which allows him receive passes on his off-side. This facilitates his ability to shoot on reception, and even gives him more angle to pick his spots.

Here’s a montage of Bolduc flowingly freeing himself in dangerous spots.

Now that we’ve talked about how Bolduc is able to get his shot off, let’s discuss about his full-end goalscoring talent.

The Trois-Rivières product arguably possesses the best scoring potential out of any QMJHL draft eligible, owing to an incredibly quick and smooth release, great precision and thrilling velocity on both his wrist and slap shot. Bolduc showcased the ability to deliver contested shots in traffic at great speeds, and bank-in passes to the slot with fiery reception blasts. He deeply enjoys getting on one knee on his one-timer, which gives him more leverage on the puck. I do think, though, that he could do a better job of constantly leaning-in on his wrist shot, as he sometimes throws the puck without as much intentions. He also misses the net way too often, a result of inconsistent accuracy.

Bolduc puts his talent on full display on the power play, frequently dribbling his way into snappy, pin-point accurate wrister or firing a quick slap shot from the flank. Confident and talented, he could be a threat on the man-advantage at the next level.

If Bolduc possesses decent range thanks to his superb shooting power, his finishing skills are just as fantastic. From tapping-in passes from Alexis Lafreniere last season to jumping on rebounds with accuracy this year, Bolduc has shown tremendous skills in-tight.

With his obvious shooting talent, it’s fair to ask ourselves how come did Bolduc only posted 10 goals in 27 games (0,37 G/GP), a relative decrease from his 30 goals in 55 games (0.55 G/GP) last year.

Aside from saying goodbye to Lafreniere — who manifestly inflated his stats a bit last season — the 18-year-old clearly suffered from some poor shooting luck. He had a ton of golden opportunities, but luck was simply not on his side most of the season. Leading the QMJHL draft eligibles in shot attempts/GP and sliding second only to L’Heureux in xG/GP, the stats does associate his moderately poor shooting season to a probable misfortune.

That said, Bolduc did flash a tendency to over-focus on finding shooting lanes on the cycle without having the skill to create for himself consistently, which led to him shot faking into double teams or stickhandling the puck until taking a low-danger shot was his only option.

This inflated his shot attempts, without adding much value to the offense. Here are a few examples that display it perfectly.

The first two clips show his stubbornness to find the shooting lane, which ends up with him getting blocked twice, while on the next plays, he curls away from the net looking for a mindless, desperation shot instead of slipping a pass to one of his teammates or driving high-danger areas. There was times where the middle lane opened up for him using this move, but I would advise him to find a more efficient strategy.

The Flashes of Dual Threat

In addition to his remarkable goalscoring abilities, Bolduc has shown an evolving willingness and commitment to create plays and scoring opportunities for his linemates.

Bolduc stays observant with the puck, routinely and reliably completing simple reads to find open teammates. He can be extremely generous with the puck when he feels a teammate is in a better position than him, and even relishes sending rapid feeds to the crease when he sees circulation. He will need to keep a distinct attention on staying meticulous with his passes, as he can fall in the trap of sending blind passes primitively or simply being careless distributing the puck. He sent too many passes hoping a teammate would be there instead of actually aiming to set them up, shattering his completion rate.

Although he lacks the passing touch of high-end playmakers, he shares the same devotion to create for his linemates and keeps circulating the puck. For the most part, Bolduc has been a competent passer who possesses the dexterity and skill to effectuate basic plays.

 

Despite his mostly uninspiring passing, Bolduc has flashed snippet of high-end playmaking talent throughout the season, which could mean a ton for his development.

Taking his responsibilities as a play driver, Rimouski’s top-line forward flickered confidence and accuracy completing setups to the slot.

Bolduc showed uplifting creativity and poise generating chances, as well as even inserting sparkles of deceptively in his some of his decisions. Matching his encouraging hockey senses to his desire to create offense as a passer could allow him to become an elite dual threat. Although he lacks consistency with his touch and elusiveness, some of his actions this season were very promising for his future.

 

Attacking in Transition

What first stands out with Bolduc in transition, is his enthusiasm to share the puck with his wingers and push the pace with outlets.

He always leads breakouts with his head up, looking for passing options. Mixing in an impressive accuracy on his first pass, he’s able to create efficient zone exits and stretch the play rapidly. He showcased a tremendous vision and anticipation with some of his lobs to neutral zone too, often placing the puck in the perfect spot for his partner. Bolduc handles pressure extremely well, using his fluid mobility to stay away from forecheckers and cut into open space to have wiggle room to deliver his passes. When things didn’t open up for him, he never forced a play, often leaving the puck back to his defenseman for safety.

Bolduc is incredibly composed on breakouts, which allows him to take brisk decisions and make delicate passes effortlessly. That said, there’s a small, but important contrast between being poised and being unconcerned. Bolduc could flash sparkles of insouciance at times, which hurt some of his outlets. When showing, his laid-back nonchalance affected his touch and led him to overcomplicate feeds.

Still, Bolduc is still one of the best when it comes to generating transition via passes, which both the eye test and numbers can assess to.

 

As a skater, Bolduc showcased above average top speed and decent acceleration, which allowed him to fly through open ice.

He possesses tremendous mechanics, flashing an excellent stance, great upper-body movement, a splendid stride length, and a smooth recovery stride. He makes big, powerful pushes, but does take a bit more time to pass from his outside to inside edge.

This means that between each stride, there’s a few milliseconds lost before he can propel himself, which also holds him back from having an explosive outlook.

Bolduc doesn’t possess the flashiest hands or the most dynamic skating, but he still showcased decent abilities dissecting lanes and generating zone entries by himself.

He showed tremendous awareness to take creative, sounded paths to the offensive zone, often navigating through defences looking for openings. Given time and space, Bolduc could split defenses with authority and exploit breaches, but with tighter coverage, his lack of high-end skills as a dangler were exposed. He will need to refine his mitts to be more effective with dekes, but that’s not to say he isn’t able to attack defenders with top-notch puck skills.

Bolduc displayed outstanding puck control to keep command of the puck through sticks and checks. He was able to get past defenders by simply stickhandling within-in reach and choosing a path depending of the rearguard’s reaction.

Bolduc also excels at protecting his puck on controlled zone entries, notching the execution and aggressive mindset. He lowers his center of gravity to get more balance against checks, shields his puck with his body and uses his off-hand to get sticks away — some of the best technique I’ve seen from draft eligibles. When he attacks on his forehand, he loves to extend his stick to get away from pokechecks.

Bolduc could still put on more muscle mass to absorb hits with more ease, as defensemen can overpower him from time to time. Still, he has a knack for using his frame to its full-extend, surprising many with his counterbalance.

Board Plays & Physicality

Bolduc shines in puck retrieval situations, as he understands how to approach puck battles. On multiple occasion, he was able to get the overwhelming advantage before entering the puck battle by simply getting the upper-hand in positioning with smart physical contacts and stick-lifts.

Bolduc enjoys engaging physically with his opponent before arriving on the puck, to shield his advantageous positioning shut or slip ahead. To counterbalance, depending on the situation, he also relishes jumping around defenders to evade checks and find the fastest path to the puck. His smarts entering puck battles are simply unmatched. He showed tremendous timing and dexterity with his stick as well, which allowed him to pickpocket defenders from behind.

Here are a few of his puck retrievals. In the first clip, Bolduc goes head to head with VDO4. Both seem to prepare themselves to enter a physical fight for the puck, building-up a huge swing to check their rival. Bolduc uses that information to his advantage, jumping around his unstable opponent and arrive first on the puck.

Bolduc possesses great fundamentals to win his puck battles – a quick, active stick, a great collaboration of his feet to battle for position, an above average core strength and an eager to compete. He’s not only been really impressive with his involvement in all four corners, his expertise to adapt to his opponent strengths and work through them with his smarts are outstanding.

Statistically, Rimouski’s top-line forward is one of the league’s best draft eligibles when it comes to winning puck battles — not only being the most active along the wall, but also the most successful tied with Olivier Nadeau.

Bolduc isn’t the most powerful hitter, but he certainly isn’t scared of physical play.

He can distribute solid checks when he has the opportunity and even looks to create contact when he’s in possession of the puck. It’s not rare to see him jump at his opponent while protecting his puck to disturb and neutralize him. Bolduc will still probably need to add to frame before reaching the next level, but his strength shouldn’t be overlook. He can be sneakily strong.

 

The Two-Way Potential

Quite possibly the most underrated aspect of his game, Bolduc is a tremendous defender who showed flashes of high-end two-way potential.

All of it starts with his periodic and very punctual backchecks, where he enjoys meeting attackers on the outbreak with disturbing, upsetting stick-lifts. Thanks to his decent straight-line speed and desire to leave his mark on defense, Bolduc made countless efforts to cut off breakaways or odd man rushes. His pesky and extremely perturbing wingspan seemed to drive opponents nuts.

But even when the pressure to get back wasn’t as evident, the Quebec product made sure to always retrieve to his spot safely and with great anticipation.

Bolduc has played at both the center spot and on the wing this season, but in all scenarios, he’s always been active defensively, reading plays with great awareness.

He showed splendid anticipation to routinely step up in lanes and cut passes with his long reach. Bolduc does an excellent job of covering sneaky attackers slipping to the slot or advancing to the low wall to help his defensemen. As with many young players, he had a few lapses of focus defensively, but those were rare and ephemeral.

Bolduc’s defensive instincts do not only leave an impact in his own zone. He translates his remarkable anticipation to defend through neutral zone as well.

He reads the opposition with dexterity, which helps him apprehend upcoming plays and jump right into passing lanes. He excels at creating turnovers through middle ice by intercepting stretch passes, deviating outlets, disturbing puck carriers with great stick-work and forcing bad decisions with his intimidating presence alone. He leads all first-year QMJHL draft eligibles in takeaways.

Here’s a perfect example of Bolduc’s overall defensive impact.

He applies pressure to disturb the zone exit, gets back safely on the rush to block passing lanes to the slot, then wins his board battle down low to take back the control of the play.

Inconsistent Competitiveness

Although very subtle at times, Bolduc seems to have difficulties keeping-up a constant high level of energy.

Often, after completing an outlet in transition, he’ll forget to follow his pass or crash to an open spot, leisurely trailing behind. He passes on a ton of scoring opportunities that way, irregularly lacking concentration and vivacity. I’ve already hinted at this problem, but there’s a fine line between poise and nonchalance. Bolduc completes plays smoothly and with a ton of confidence, but he sometimes forgets to keep up with the pace and proactively get into the next play.

It really refrains him from taking the next step to becoming a constant offensive threat.

Bolduc had plenty of flashes of great competitiveness and proactive positioning.

Here’s some of my favorite actions from him this season, showcasing exactly what I’m looking for in his game. After completing one play, he kept his feet moving, looking to get involved in the next one.

On the puck pursuit, Bolduc is a relentless forechecker who shadows opponents with constant, troubling stick-checks and an eager to steal the puck.

With the help of his tremendous anticipation, smart stick work and quick puck skills, he was able to takeaway countless pucks in traffic. When he lost possession of the puck offensively, Bolduc frequently battled ferociously to gain it back with those same assets.

The Next Two-Way scoring Forward?

In short, Bolduc is still a very raw prospect, but with intriguing flashes in multiple aspect of his game, he very well might possess the highest ceiling out of the QMJHL. He has showcased tremendous goalscoring prowess, an evolving enthusiasm to generate chances and lead transition as a playmaker, incredible smarts in board battles and an impressive, promising defensive anticipation. Despite injuries and some inconsistencies in his effort throughout the year, Bolduc possesses outstanding two-way potential and could certainly become a top-six forward in the NHL.

Bolduc will need time to find consistency in his effort and focus, refine his shot and pass selection, and smoothen his dekes, but I believe he could be an impactful player once arrived at the next level, whether that’s at the center spot or on the wing.

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