Kieffer Bellows wasn’t supposed to be available for the Islanders.
Isles’ General Manager Garth Snow and his team of scouts had the high-scoring, hard-nosed winger as a top-10 talent on their draft board. Trading down had crossed Snow’s mind, but not at the risk of losing a kid who scored 50 goals in 62 games with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program last season and plays with a physical edge.
“We’re extremely happy that he was available at 19,” Snow said. “For us, we see him as a top-10 pick. He competes and obviously an ability to put the puck in the net. A player that just doesn’t take shifts off. He’s gritty and competes which is something we’re excited to be able to add to our organization.”
Snow called Bellows a “bull” on the ice, but the eager 18-year-old from Edina, MN (Anders Lee’s hometown) was only seeing orange and blue on Friday night. Grinning ear-to-ear, Bellows hopped up on stage, shook Snow’s hand, realizing a dream and beginning his career as an Islander.
“It was special, it was an honor to be selected by them,” Bellows said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a bigger smile on my face. It was unreal, I’m so happy.”
It was a surreal evening, far beyond his wildest imagination. The lights, the cheers, a phone call from John Tavares and another from Lee, putting on the jersey, feeling the fabric of an NHL sweater and knowing it’s yours.
After being escorted around the rookie circus: draft photos, interviews, family photos, more interviews, fan photos, signings, more handshakes and hugs, he was offered the chance to take off the jersey and blend in.
He wanted to leave it on.
“As a kid you picture this moment in your head,” Bellows said. “You think about it all the time, especially on draft day and it’s nothing like you pictured. It’s better, it’s like 10 times better, I can’t believe it.”
Bellows accomplished all he needs to in junior hockey. He won a Clark Cup (the USHL title) in his rookie year, while also winning the league’s rookie of the year honors. He advanced to the NTDP and finished second in scoring (81 points) to fellow draftee Clayton Keller. He’s committed to Boston University for next season and thinks that two seasons there will have him NHL ready.
He’s 6’1, 195lbs., so size isn’t a concern, but he knows there’s more to do before he can be an NHLer and an impact one at that. He heeded Lee and Tavares’ advice to soak it in and enjoy the moment, but he’s also got a strong work ethic, passed down from his father Brian, a Stanley Cup champion and veteran of over 1,000 games. While sitting at the podium of his introductory press conference, Bellows said he was going to enjoy his night, but get right back to work the next day.
“The hard work starts right after this, you have to go back and be ready,” Bellows said.
That’s what Snow likes about him; his never take a shift off attitude, you know, in addition to the goal-scoring, physicality and upstanding character.
So as Bellows spent the night with his family and friends, basking in the feeling of becoming a New York Islander, Snow may wonder how this kid slipped to 19.
But it doesn’t matter. He’s in no hurry to let the other teams have a do-over.