Believe it or not, training camp is right around the corner for the NY Islanders. Kieffer Bellows has yet to establish himself as a regular at the NHL level. With the start of the season bound to begin before you know it, what will the Edina, Minnesota native's role be for the Islanders this season?
Bellows was drafted by the Islanders in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft, 19th overall. His goal-scoring ability and success on the grand stage at the World Junior Championships pegged him to be a full-time NHL regular following in his father's (Brian Bellows) footsteps. Last year Bellows played a career-high 45 games for the Isles tallying six goals and 19 points.
Bellows turned 24 this off-season and with only some flashes of potential and no real consistency at the NHL level, how can head coach Lane Lambert best utilize his young power forward?
Bellows has an NHL-ready frame standing at 6'1" and 195 lbs. His skillset consists of that of a power forward with a goal-scoring touch, but it's taken him a little bit longer to put things together. Under Barry Trotz, Bellows struggled to play consistent minutes because of his play in the Islanders' own end.
The Isles still don't necessarily know what they have in Bellows with such a small sample size at the varsity level. The only major criticism one can have with Trotz was last season he was hesitant to play his young players like Bellows, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Robin Salo.
The Isles can't turn back the clock and Bellows will enter this year's training camp (assuming he isn't traded before then) looking to earn a roster spot. Projections have Bellows as the Isles 13th - 14th forward along with Ross Johnston. The Isles fourth line has been and will be spoken for this season, and their top-nine looks set, especially if Nazem Kadri signs with the Isles which many anticipate.
Unless he has training camp where he turns Lou Lamoriello and Lambert's heads, it leaves Bellows sitting in the press box unless an injury occurs. Even if an injury occurs it's not a foregone conclusion that Bellows gets the nod over Johnston.
In terms of Bellows' development, keep in mind each player's development clock is different. Some can jump into the NHL at a young age such as Mathew Barzal. For others, it takes a bit more time such as Johnny Boychuk who had an excellent career as a second-pairing defenseman, yet did not become an NHL regular until he was 25. Traditionally, power forwards take a little bit longer to develop, too, and that's Bellows' game in a nutshell.
Having said all that the Islanders are a win-now team. Playing in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference, points will be precious, and making the playoffs will not be easy. Unless Bellows finds another gear and makes it impossible for Lambert to keep him out of the lineup, the Isles may not have the luxury to give him an increased role if he doesn't push the needle. The beast that is the east saw the second wild card team, Washington Capitals, clinch the eighth seed in the East with 100 points, 16 more points than the Islanders who finished right behind them in ninth place.
At this stage of the game, trading Bellows on his own would not garner much of a return. If Kadri's signing is to become a reality then a forward with a decent cap number must go.
Kevin Weekes reported that there could be at least four transactions ready to go for the Islanders. One can reasonably speculate that if Kadri is indeed signing with the Islanders, there will have to be a trade in place in order to clear cap space. It's not unreasonable to think Bellows could be included in a trade as a sweetener for another team to agree to help the Islanders make room with just under $12 million in cap space and some important restricted free agents in Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov to extend in addition to any possible lineup upgrades.
At best, Bellows appears to be a third-line scoring forward. At worst, he's a platoon forward that rotates in for skaters who need a breather or injury replacement. Bellows could still very well have a really good NHL career, but if its going to be with the Islanders he is going to have to fire on all cylinders at training camp. The former first-round picks window to become a regular NHLer is closing, and it could be closed by the season's end.