After a bounce-back season, Kieffer Bellows is once again the New York Islanders’ top prospect, but can he make the jump from the WHL to the NHL right away?
On June 24, 2016 the New York Islanders had possession of the 19th overall pick in the NHL Draft.
There were some rumors and speculation that the Islanders were considering trading the pick and for good reason. After winning their first playoff series in 23 years they had a pretty good team and perhaps their best option was to trade the pick for immediate help rather waiting for help down the road.
Echoing off that, the team is somewhat notorious for their draft day selections that haven’t played anywhere close to their potential. So trading the pick for an impact player who could contribute immediately seemed like the best option.
As each pick went by, starting with Auston Matthews going first overall to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the chances of trading away the pick looked slim. Those chances evaporated completely as the Islanders walked up to the podium to announce their selection.
Out of the United States National Team Development Program (NTDP), the Islanders selected Kieffer Bellows.
Two years later, Kieffer Bellows will begin his first season of professional hockey. The question is if that will be with the Isles’ AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, or the big club.
As previously mentioned, Bellows spent his draft year with NTDP, scoring 50 goals and 81 points in just 62 games. Those 50 goals place him sixth all-time for the program, behind only Matthews (55), Cole Caufield (54, 2019 Draft eligible), Patrick Kane (52), and Phil Kessel (52, did it twice). That’s some pretty elite company.
Bellows spent his first post-draft season as a freshman with Boston University. Bellows struggled, putting up seven goals and 14 points in just 34 games which led most Islander fans to believe their team had picked yet another bust.
However, after his freshman year, Bellows made the decision to leave Boston and head towards the Western Hockey League (WHL) to join the Portland Winterhawks. It’s safe to say that was the right choice as he registered 41 goals and 74 points in only 56 regular-season games. In the playoffs, he had three goals and 13 points in 12 games.
While these numbers are certainly impressive, it was the 2018 U20 World Junior Championship in which Bellows really showed what he can do. En route to a Bronze medal, Bellows dominated with nine goals and an assist in just seven games. His two goals in the Bronze medal game helped tie and then pass the legendary Jeremy Roenick for the most goals scored by an American in the tournament’s history.
The most dangerous weapon that Bellows possesses is his shot. It is deadly, it is accurate, and he can get it off quickly. Unlike some of the accurate shooters on the Islanders like Brock Nelson and Andrew Ladd, it’s not only the wrist shot in which he has nearly mastered. The kid, turning 20 on June 10, can let it go too. Commonly known as the most inaccurate of shots, his slapshot is still pretty darn accurate. Bellows reminds me of some of the best snipers in the league like Patrik Laine, Matthews, and Vladimir Tarasenko.
He’s not necessarily known for it but his speed was also on full display during the tournament. In the tournament, at least three of his goals came from speed. Two were initially breakaways in which the opponent had no choice but to take a penalty setting up two penalty shots; Bellows scored on both. Another was a dump in that took a fortunate bounce off the end-boards but it was the speed of Bellows to get there first before wiring one into the back of the net.
Traditionally, it’s rare to see an Islander in their first professional season make the team out of training camp. As of late, only Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier did it. However, it’s a new era on Long Island/in Brooklyn with or without their captain and pending free agent, John Tavares.
Hockey Hall of Famer, Lou Lamoriello, has been appointed president of hockey operations and there will be changes. In Garth Snow’s 12 years of calling the shots, accountability has ironically been a word thrown around by the entire organization. It’s ironic because it’s a word that has only been thrown around and it has never actually been put to use other than on a select few like Josh Ho-Sang it seems.
For example, do Shane Prince and Alan Quine have their roster spots secured? Through injuries and healthy scratches, the two put up a combined goal and four assists in 35 games. Both are pending restricted free agents, coming off two-year, one-way deals. Would either of them take two-way (NHL/AHL) deals or will Lamoriello decide to move on from the two of them completely? It seems unlikely that both of them find their way onto the NHL roster.
The same applies to Dennis Seidenberg. The 36-year-old defenseman was a healthy scratch for most of the season, playing in only 28 games. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer as well trade-deadline acquisition Chris Wagner, who scored just once in an underwhelming 13 games.
Whether there is a roster spot for him or not, Bellows deserves one. The numbers and on-ice play back up that argument but ultimately, it will come down to training camp. Even if Bellows does start the season in Bridgeport, it won’t be long until he’s contributing at the NHL level.