2014 NHL Draft: Minnesota Wild draft review

By Peter Prohaska

Alex Tuch - Minnesota Wild

Photo: The Wild selected USNTDP winger and Boston College commit Alex Tuch with the 18th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

 

Though there was talk of somehow reacquiring a second round pick, the Minnesota Wild had limited assets to offer as enticement. Chuck Fletcher did pick up an additional seventh round pick in 2015 in exchange for moving down one pick, but in the end the braintrust seemed content to stick with its hand in Philadelphia.

They garnered a group of picks that again seemed to hint at a maverick spirit in the Wild scouting staff. The team shored up two areas of weakness by adding a highly-considered young goalie and making a run at several centers, but this draft will take several years to yield results for the NHL club. The Wild sits at a precarious juncture, one that depends a lot on continued good performances from its core but also straight-line development from its talented youth. The draft would hardly offer an instant fix for any deficiency, so this ends up looking like yet another year in which the Wild stockpiled for a distant and nebulous future.

Alex Tuch, RW, USNTDP (USHL)
1st Round, 18th Overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 218

Alex Tuch was a fast riser in the pre-draft rankings and his selection was really not much of a surprise at 18th overall. The Wild has kept close tabs on the U.S. National Team Development Program for several years running. With Tuch, the Wild added a player with a professional hockey player’s build who also brings some considerable skill.

Tuch is a self-described “big, strong power forward” who plays in “all three ends.”  Although Tuch mentioned Minnesota State-Mankato alum David Backes as a comparable, it would be exceeding expectations for Tuch to put up a point per game in his freshman year as Backes did. Tuch is part of a very strong freshman group joining the Wild’s Adam Gilmour at Boston College this spring. Whether Tuch’s overall game is ready without the size advantage he enjoyed in the USHL is the obvious question he must answer. Apart from his solid performance as a player thus far, Tuch is also a co-winner, along with Pittsburgh pick Anthony Angello, of the USHL Scholar-Athlete Award. The Wild has emphasized character as well as on-ice ability and made a bet here that it would not be a lack of effort or a moral failure that would prevent Tuch from reaching his full potential.

Tuch met with the media following his selection by the Wild, with some of that conversation captured in this HF video.

Louis Belpedio, D, USNTDP (USHL)
3rd Round, 80th Overall
Height: 5-10 Weight: 193

Unable to snag higher priority targets, the Wild had to sit tight until the third round offered an intriguing college-bound option in Louis Belpedio, also from the United States Developmental Team. Belpedio played at the alma mater of Gary and Ryan Suter, among others, as a prep athlete before joining the U.S. U-18 development team. He served as that team’s captain and has been praised for his on-ice leadership, as well as good hockey skills. He sees himself as a “two way defenseman” who can join the rush but is responsible defensively. Wild Assistant GM Brent Flahr echoed this assessment, saying, “he’s a character kid who plays a solid two-way game.”

Belpedio joins a Miami of Ohio hockey squad that underachieved a little bit last year but should ice a very competitive team this fall. He spoke with the media after being chosen by the Wild, with some of his comments being captured in this HF video.

Kaapo Kähkönen, G, Espoo Blues U20 (Finland Jr.)
4th Round, 109th Overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 201

Though there was some murmuring that the Wild would shore up its goalie pool with a first-round pick, the draft team wisely waited until the fourth round to grab its newest netminding prospect. Kähkönen was the fourth rated European goalie by Central Scouting, falling from number two at mid-term, but Kähkönen has remarkable pedigree having played for Finland internationally since the U-16 level.

The big-bodied Finn is already taking the long view with his development, planning on a couple of seasons with Espoo at least before any North American opportunity, something Brent Flahr also mentioned. Nonetheless, in terms of potential, Kähkönen climbs to the top of the Wild’s depth chart.

Tanner Faith, D, Kootenay Ice (WHL)
5th Round, 139th Overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 211

If size and somewhat under-the-radar skill is to be a theme of this draft for the Wild, then strength in adversity is one as well. Faith appeared in only ten games this past season as he was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Brent Flahr called him a “quality risk” and mentioned that his coaches “raved about him.” Faith certainly has ready size to be effective and while he has not shown an offensive upside thus far in his junior career, his defensive ability is solid. Of course, Faith will have much to prove on the ice in the upcoming season.

Pontus Själin, D, Östersunds IK (Sweden Div. 1)
6th Round, 160th Overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 168

The Wild ended up not picking any Swedish juniors in the 2013 draft but dug deep for 2014, sending a scout to check out Pontus Själin playing third tier men’s league for Östersunds IK. Not big by NHL standards, and not putting up numbers that speak immediately of above-average offensive ability, Själin stood out by virtue of his skating, with Flahr calling him “very mobile.” He will join the better-known Leksand junior squad for next season.

Chase Lang, C, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
6th Round, 167th Overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 176

The Wild did not have much in the way of center depth in its system but did much to address that weakness in 2014, starting with Calgary’s Chase Lang. Brent Flahr praised him as an “intelligent, two-way player” and though his scoring numbers are not impressive thus far, Lang should be more effective next season. Touted as a penalty-killer, scouts would surely like to see a bit more offense from Lang.

Reid Duke, C, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
6th Round, 169th Overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 190

Another center, Calgarian Reid Duke was drafted out of a Lethbridge club that was the worst in the WHL, where he finished third in scoring. What scouting a player on a poor club can ultimately help indicate is the person’s ability to compete given adverse conditions. The Wild hopes that Duke’s emergence as a leader here also is proof of his willingness to skate hard night and night out, but his point totals show skill too.

He was ranked 137 among North American skaters by the CSS, and Flahr again praised his “talent level.” Duke called himself a “very hard worker” and seems like a young man who is well-spoken and confident. He will be playing his fourth season with Lethbridge next season and is expected again to be that club’s leader.

Pavel Jenys, C, Brno Comets (Extraliga)
7th Round, 199th Overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 190

The Wild has a limited history with Czech juniors, and you have to go all the way back to 2003′s sixth round flyer on Miroslav Kopriva to find a draft pick. This is in part due to some deficiencies in recent years in the development programs in the Czech Republic, which often sees its top players leave home for higher-profile opportunities in the CHL. This draft class (and the next) feature several intriguing Czech players however, and Brno’s Pavel Jenys was ranked 21st by Central Scouting Services among European skaters. Jenys is a big-bodied center who can play the defensive side of the game, but some scouts were critical of his effort level.

Jenys managed to get into 29 games for the Brno Comets, a club that was the runner-up for the Czech Extraliga championship this season. The Extraliga is certainly a lesser league at this point in history, and Jenys was not on the playoff roster, but for a teenager to gain experience against seasoned veterans is generally a positive endorsement of his ability, and generally a positive for his development. Jenys is a pick who was apparently specifically vouched for by European Scout Pavel Routa. Jenys was picked by the Sudbury Wolves in the 2014 CHL Import Draft and is expected to come to North America for the 2014-15 season.