The 15th installment in this series has arrived after looking at how the Minnesota Wild did in their first 14 NHL Entry Drafts. If you missed any of them or want a refresher, you can find those recaps below:
- 2000: Franchise’s Inaugural Draft
- 2001: Minnesota Gets Its Captain
- 2002: Late Round Woes
- 2003: Most Disappointing Draft Yet
- 2004: A Draft With No Standouts
- 2005: Starting the New Era Off with a Whimper
- 2006: More Missed Opportunities
- 2007: Prospect Cupboards Continue Being Empty
- 2008: Another First-Round Bust
- 2009: O.K. Draft to Finish the Decade
- 2010: Best Draft in a Long Time
- 2011: Wild Draft an All-Time Great Defenseman
- 2012: Minnesota Adds Another Key Defender
- 2013: Another Draft with Minimal Standouts
Compared to years past, the 2013-14 NHL season was a great success for the Wild. The team finished the campaign with a 43-27-12 record (98 points), which was good enough to give them their second straight playoff appearance. Minnesota made it all the way to the second round, where the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated them once again. Despite that, there was still a lot of optimism surrounding the franchise as it headed towards the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
With eight picks on the board this year, did the Wild find more pieces to help take them to the next level? Read on and find out.
Early Rounds (1st and 2nd)
Round 1, 18th Overall – Alex Tuch, Right Wing (U.S. National Under-18 Team, USHL)
The Wild used their first pick of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft to select Alex Tuch at the No. 18 spot. The selection was just the second time since 2008 that the organization had used its first draft pick on a forward. Nevertheless, Tuch was more than worth the selection after a breakout 2013-14 United States Hockey League (USHL) season. The Syracuse, NY native finished the campaign with 13 goals and 19 assists in 26 games. His 32 points on the year put him third in team scoring, just behind Jack Eichel (45) and Sonny Milano (39). Adding on to that, he also won bronze and gold medals at the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and 2014 IIHF World Under-18 Championships, respectively.
Tuch spent two seasons with Boston College, tallying 62 points in 77 games before signing his entry-level contract in April 2016. Even though he was a first-round prospect, the Wild decided that starting him off with Iowa in the American Hockey League was the safer decision. It ended up being the right call because Tuch finished the 2016-17 AHL season tied for first in team goals (18) and second in points (37) after 57 games. Tuch did earn himself a couple of looks in the NHL, but he failed to record a point in six games with Minnesota.
Unfortunately, that was it for Tuch’s Wild tenure. Minnesota decided to trade him to the Vegas Golden Knights in June 2017 so that the league’s 31st team would take Erika Haula in the expansion draft instead. The move helped Tuch develop into a middle-six forward for Vegas, proven by his 139 points in 249 games over four seasons with the team.
While he signed a seven-year extension with the Golden Knights in October 2018, the team has since moved him, along with many draft picks and prospect Peyton Krebs to the Buffalo Sabres as a part of the blockbuster Eichel trade. However, Tuch has yet to play a game for the Sabres as he’s still recovering after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason.
Middle Rounds (3rd — 4th)
Round 3, 80th Overall – Louis Belpedio, Defenseman (U.S. National Under-18 Team, USHL)
The Wild went back to the U.S. National Under-18 Team with their second pick of the 2014 draft, this time selecting Louis Belpedio. The young defenseman totaled 23 points in 60 games during his draft year while also captaining the United States to the aforementioned gold medal at the 2014 IIHF World U-18 Championship. Like Tuch, Belpedio opted for the collegiate route to the pros, spending a full four-season tenure with the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks.
When Belpedio’s time in the NCAA was up, the Wild rewarded him with a 10-game tryout with Iowa during the 2017-18 AHL season. His numbers ended up being underwhelming (two assists and a -6 plus/minus rating), but he did get to play one game with Minnesota during that stretch, record his first two career assists. That was good enough for the Wild, who then signed him to a two-year entry-level contract.
Much to his dismay, Belpedio spent a majority of the next three seasons with Iowa, playing only three NHL games after his initial debut. Nevertheless, his time with the organization recently came to an end. Belpedio signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Montreal Canadiens ahead of the 2021-22 NHL season. He’s played 21 games for the Laval Rockets so far, scoring three goals while adding a trio of assists.
Round 4, 109th Overall – Kaapo Kahkonen, Goalie (Espoo Blues, SM-liiga)
Minnesota has had its fair share of memorable goalies across its history, and the organization was hoping that Kaapo Kahkonen could be the next one on that list when they selected him at No. 109 in the fourth round. After five seasons and a gold medal for Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, he finally signed a two-year entry-level deal with the Wild in May 2018.
While he was shaky at times, Kahkonen finished the 2018-19 AHL season with a 17-22-4 record, 2.78 goals-against average (GAA), .908 save percentage (SV%) and six shutouts. His encore performance was even better the following season despite playing five fewer games. He went 25-6-3 in 2019-20, posting a 2.07 GAA, .927 SV% and career-best seven shutouts.
With Cam Talbot dealing with injuries at the start of the 2020-21 NHL season, the Wild called on Kahkonen a lot. Despite only playing five NHL games before that campaign, he finished the season with a 16-8-0 record in 24 appearances, along with a 2.88 GAA and .902 SV%. He was still inconsistent at times throughout the season and finished with a sub-.900 SV% more than Minnesota would have liked. However, it was clear that he had the tools to be a starter one day.
Unfortunately, Kahkonen’s inconsistencies have followed him into the 2021-22 season, proven by his .895 SV% despite having a 4-1-0 record after five starts. With Swedish goaltending prospect Jesper Wallstedt in the Wild’s system now, Kahkonen needs to step up if he wants to continue his Wild career.
Late Rounds (5th — 7th)
Round 5, 139th Overall – Tanner Faith, Defenseman (Kootenay Ice, WHL)
Tanner Faith was the first of back-to-back defensemen that the Wild took in the later rounds of this draft. The 6-foot-4 blueliner was someone that Minnesota thought could be a shutdown role player for years to come. Perhaps he could have been that player, but injuries held him to just 88 Western Hockey League games from the 2013-14 season to 2015-16. He spent three seasons playing collegiate hockey for the University of British Columbia, but he never was offered a deal from the Wild and hasn’t played hockey since 2019.
Round 6, 160th Overall – Pontus Sjalin, Defenseman (Ostersunds, Sweden Jrs.)
Swedish defenseman Pontus Sjalin was Minnesota’s next pick on the board as the club tried to load up at the position. The bad news is that he never wound up joining the Wild either. He’s spent the entirety of his career playing for multiple Swedish teams, although most of that time has been with Lulea HF. Sjalin is still with the club to this day, recording two goals in 16 games to start the 2021-22 Swedish Hockey League season.
Round 6, 167th Overall – Chase Lang, Right Wing (Calgary Hitman, WHL)
With the 167th overall pick in Round 6, the Wild selected Calgary Hitman right-winger Chase Lang from the WHL. The Nanaimo, BC native showed some offensive potential during his time in the juniors, posting two 25-goal campaigns in his final two seasons. Unlike the previous two selections, Minnesota actually ended up signing Lang to his entry-level deal with hopes that he could contribute somewhere in the bottom-six one day.
As hard as he tried, Lang couldn’t bring his WHL success to the pro level. Most of his time in the minors came in the ECHL, with him only playing 34 total games (two goals and three assists) with Iowa. The Wild didn’t see much of a future for him with the franchise, which is why they let him walk following the 2018-19 season. While he still hasn’t played in the AHL or higher in four seasons, Lang does have 14 points in 20 games with the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals in the 2021-22 season.
Round 6, 169th Overall – Reid Duke, Center (Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL)
Before Reid Duke was the first player in Golden Knights history, he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by the Wild. He finished his draft season with 40 points on a Lethbridge Hurricanes team that went 12-55-5 during the 2013-14 WHL season, which showed that he could have some decent upside on a better team. Minnesota let Duke simmer in the juniors for a little while longer, leading to him scoring 184 points over the next three seasons.
Since the Wild decided not to offer him a deal, the Golden Knights signed Duke at the end of his final junior season. He still hasn’t made his NHL debut despite being with Vegas for the last five seasons, playing for the organization’s AHL affiliates in Chicago and Henderson. Injuries have held him to just 114 games played and 39 points during the span, so it’s safe to say that he may not become the NHL player that many hoped he’d be one day.
Round 7, 199th Overall – Pavel Jenys, Right Wing (Brno Kometa, Czech)
The Wild turned to the Czech Republic for their final pick of the draft, selecting right-winger Pavel Jenys from Brno Kometa. He made a jump to the Ontario Hockey League in the following season, posting 45 points in 63 games during his inaugural season. His efforts earned him four games with Iowa that season, but the organization returned him to the OHL for the next two campaigns.
Unfortunately, Jenys played just nine more games for Iowa after the 2015-16 OHL season. He spent most of his time in the ECHL, never performing well enough for a long-term call-up. He returned to Europe ahead of the 2019-20 campaign, spending two of the last three seasons back with Brno Kometa.
Wild Draft Grade: C
Aside from Tuch and Kahkonen, the Wild’s 2014 draft class was mostly forgettable. It certainly stings that the former never got a longer look with the franchise, especially with how nice he could’ve looked in the middle-six of the team’s current lineup. Meanwhile, Kahkonen needs to establish more consistency going forward if Minnesota wants to be left with any wins from this draft. Until then, the 2014 NHL Entry Draft was a fairly middle-of-the-road showing for the Wild.
As a lifelong hockey fan and recent Master of Journalism graduate, it’s always been my dream to write about the sport. That’s why you can find me here on THW covering the Minnesota Wild! You may also see my work on FanDuel, the Ottawa Citizen, and various sports betting sites. Follow me on Twitter @devplat!