The Minnesota Wild added seven players to their prospect stable Saturday during the second and final day of the 2014 National Hockey League Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Without a second round pick, which was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Matt Moulson at this year’s trade deadline, Minnesota waited about an hour into day two, selecting defenseman Louis Belpedio from the United States National Team Development Program with the 20th selection of the third round, pick number 80 overall.
Originally scheduled to pick one slot earlier, the Wild traded back one spot with the Tampa Bay Lightning and picked up a seventh round pick in next year’s draft for the trouble.
A teammate of Wild first round selection Alex Tuch with Team USA, Belpedio is a smaller defenseman in the mold of current defenseman Jared Spurgeon. At 5-10, and 193 pounds, Belpedio is a right-handed shot who grew up a Chicago Blackhawks fan from Skokie, Ill.
“I’m a Chicago kid, so there’s a little bit of a rivalry there, but I’ve switched to the other side already,” Belpedio said.
Belpedio scored seven goals and added 13 assists in 53 games with the Under-18 team last season. As a U-17 two seasons ago, Belpedio had a goal and 11 assists in 56 games. He said he models his game after his favorite player, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.
“I try to play in all three zones,” Belpedio said. “I try to jump in the play when I can, be aggressive, use my body when I can and skate.”
Belpedio will begin his collegiate career this fall at the University of Miami (Ohio).
In Round four, the Wild selected goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen.
Like current Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, Kahkonen is a native of Helsinki, Finland. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Kahkonen is a lefty glove that played in 38 games with the Junior Blues in Finland’s SM-Liiga last season. Scouting reports note Kahkonen is a mobile goaltender that isn’t afraid to leave his crease to play the puck. He is the fourth rated European goaltender according to NHL’s Central Scouting and said his favorite Finnish goaltender is Dallas Stars net minder Kari Lehtonen.
“I’m calm and play a butterfly style,” Kahkonen said. “But I try to fight for pucks and help my teammates.”
Minnesota selected back-to-back defensemen in the middle rounds, picking Tanner Faith with the 19th selection in round five, 139 overall and Pontus Sjalin with their first of three picks in round six, No. 160 overall.
Faith, a 6-foot-3 right-handed shot from Terrace, British Columbia, just completed his second season with Kootenay of the Western Hockey League. A shoulder injury limited Faith to only 10 games in 2013-14, but with injury concerns now behind him, the Wild chose to buy low on a prospect many feel would have gone higher in the draft had he been healthy this season. Already blessed with NHL size, Faith skates well and is a solid puck-mover.
With Sjalin, the Wild selected a lefty shot that skates well and can chip in offensively. A 6-feet and 170-pound native of Sweden, Sjalin scored nine points in 31 games with three different Ostersunds IK teams last season.
Minnesota wrapped up the draft with three straight centers, picking Chase Lang 167th, Reid Duke two picks later at 169 and Pavel Jenys with their final pick, No. 199 overall.
Lang and Duke both play in the Western Hockey League, with Lang playing for the Calgary Hitmen and Duke with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
At 6-foot-1 and 176 pounds, Lang scored 10 goals and 25 points in 68 games with the Hitmen last season. He plays a gritty game as well, racking up 52 penalty minutes.
Duke could be a steal in the sixth round. Ranked 137th by Central Scouting, Duke was ranked 65th on their midterm ratings and could have been a second or third round pick as recently as six months ago.
At 6-feet and 190 pounds, Duke finished third on the Hurricanes with 40 points and was tied for the team lead with seven power play goals.
Jenys is the 21st ranked European skater in Central Scouting’s final rankings and scored 13 goals and 19 points in 26 games with Brno Jr. in the Czech Republic.
Jenys is a gritty, character forward with a big-time shot and a winning pedigree — he’s won five consecutive national championships at different levels while growing up in the Czech Republic.