Not a lot of teams seem to go into the NHL Draft looking to pick the next Jared Spurgeon.
Their loss, I guess.
In the 2014 draft, the Minnesota Wild selected Louis Belpedio with in the 3rd round of the draft. Belpedio was hailed as a great-skating two-way defenseman with intelligence, character, and skill, and was even the Captain of the United States' U-18 World Junior Championship team. So why did he fall to the third round?
The good news for Belpedio is that once you get drafted, what round you were picked is pretty irrelevant. What matters is what you do and how you develop. And in those regards, Belpedio excelled last season.
Belpedio is coming off a strong freshman season at the University of Miami, Ohio. Being a top-line defenseman as a freshman is no mean feat, and it's made even more impressive when you consider the fact that the Red Hawks had a really good team, winning the NCHC and notching a Frozen Four appearance.
Not only could Belpedio play tough minutes in all situations on Miami's first pair, Belpedio also scored at a pretty good rate. His 19 points (6G-13A) led freshmen defenders in the NCHC, and was tied for 6th in the nation among freshman defenders. For some context, fellow Wild defense prospect Gustav Olofsson managed only 8 points (albeit on a terrible Colorado College team) in his freshman year, whereas Ryan Suter scored the same number of points in his freshman year at Wisconsin.
Even though Belpedio is a more offensive defenseman, he had a signature moment in the Frozen Four that had nothing to do with scoring. Down 6-5 to Providence, Belpedio found himself in a position where he had to chase down a puck that was heading towards an empty net. He turned on the jets and made this incredible play.
Faced with the choice between conceding a crucial empty net goal and potentially doing himself bodily harm, Belpedio took the risk and sacrificed his body to keep his team's hopes alive. It was a play that showed off not only character and grit, but the speed and skating that mobile defensemen need in this era of the NHL.
"Formidable character, and it shows in how he takes the ice. Belpedio gets out there and plays in the only gear he knows: full throttle. He will most likely need to temper his enthusiasm when he gets to the next level which frankly is not a bad problem to have. Belpedio would favorably quarterback a professional club's power play in a similar style to Sami Vatanen should he continue to develop.- Edric Joseph, Dobber Prospects
"All arrows point up for Belpedio. [He] was fearless going into the zone and showed excellent skating, with more strength and decisiveness needed on the puck. He was a fun player to watch and eventually displayed a better zone game over the course of the college season."- Hockey's Future
While Belpedio has succeeded despite being 5'10", size is a concern going forward with Belpedio and (as is the case with most 19-year-old prospects) he will need to continue to add strength. Though Belpedio might be more sturdy than his listed height lets on, as he's also listed at 196 pounds, which is a pretty stout frame.
The Jared Spurgeon comparison might seem a bit lazy, but the comparison is based on more than their height. Belpedio's skating, mobility, offensive acumen, and sneaky grit practically screams "Tank 2: Electric Boogaloo". Keep an eye out for him at Miami, and quite likely on the USA World Junior team, as another step forward for Belpedio could force his way into next year's Top-10.