On the final day of the Wild’s 2014 Development Camp, forward Alex Tuch
and defenseman Louis Belpedio
sat on the bench looking over the crisp ice sheet as the camp-ending scrimmage approached.
The first and third round 2014 draft picks, respectively, and former teammates took in a few quiet moments at the end of their first pro camp.
For a young NHL prospect, attending Development Camp for the first time can be a nerve-wracking affair. Having a friend around from the start can make a grueling week more bearable.
“Seeing familiar faces around definitely makes it easier,” Belpedio said. “Having someone to talk to and hang out with definitely makes it easier to start with. I’m glad he’s here.”
Fresh out of this year’s Draft June 27-28, the two represent the Wild’s top two selections and both are out of the U.S. National Team Development Program.
The pair spent the last two years together at with the USNTDP. While they’ll go their separate ways for college — Tuch to Boston College, Belpedio to Miami of Ohio — they’re relishing being in the same NHL organization.
In fact, Tuch had the inside scoop that the Wild had its eye on Belpedio. After Tuch was drafted, the Wild brass asked the forward about his teammate, but instead of giving him a heads up, Tuch let the defensemen experience the surprise.
“I didn’t want to ruin his moment,” Tuch said. “But that was really cool. I was really happy for him.”
Tuch and Belpedio represent a small portion of the USNTDP players that were selected in this year’s draft. Overall 12 players from the 2013-14 team were chosen while a total of 19 program alums were selected.
Tuch, a Baldwinsville, N.Y. native, and Belpedio, a Skokie, Illinois native, both believe those numbers are a good indication of how far USA Hockey has come.
“I think about 31 percent of the draft were U.S. born players and that just makes a huge statement of how USA hockey is growing and developing,” Tuch said. “It just shows younger kids that you don’t have to come from a power house like Canada to be drafted high. You just have to work your hardest and you’ll get there someday.”
“That’s a great program and I enjoyed my two years there a lot,” Belpedio added. “I got better over the course of the two years. Overall it’s just a great experience, for both of us — I can speak on his behalf because we talk about it all the time.”
Both had strong campaigns in their final season with the program. Tuch was third on the team with 64 points on 29 goals and 35 assists through 61 games played. He also tied for first with seven game-winning goals and a plus-35 rating. At the U-18 World Championship, Tuch tallied three assists as Team USA captured gold.
Meanwhile, on the blue line, Belpedio netted 23 points in 61 games on seven goals and 13 assists. He also registered 44 PIM and a plus-14 rating.
Belpedio — a small defenseman, stretching up to 5-foot-10 — feels Minnesota is a great fit given how other smaller defensemen have flourished in its system.
“It’s definitely exciting,” the blueliner said. “Coach was talking earlier about D jumping in the rush which is something I like to do. My face kind of lit up a little bit. Definitely glad to be here and have a system that encourages me to do stuff like that.”
It may just be the start of their potential NHL careers, but the young duo is taking it all in stride. Whether they’re already finding a nice fit in Minnesota’s system or enjoying the ride for now both summed up their initial bit of time in the State of Hockey succinctly: “Overall, it’s been good.”