The 19th-overall pick was high-fiving other prospects left and right, sending out snapchats to Islanders’ fans and raving about how happy he was to be wearing the Blue and Orange.
“It was a hope that they were going to draft me and it’s here, it’s happening right now,” he said on his draft night. “I’m wearing the sweater and the hat. It’s unbelievable.”
After surviving the post-draft media gauntlet of photos and interviews, Bellows was offered the chance to take off his jersey to blend back into the crowd and enjoy the moment with his family.
In a hushed, hopeful tone he asked if he could leave it on. He was spotted wearing it again the next day on the draft floor. Now he’s modeling the sweater at this week’s mini camp on Long Island.
“It was pretty exciting, going out there and wearing Islanders gear and having that Islanders crest across your sweater was pretty cool,” Bellows said on the first day of camp. “I’m very happy to be here.”
His dad, Brian Bellows, who had 1,022 points in his NHL career and won a Stanley Cup in 1993, is happy, too. Brian was at Barclays Center in May for Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and loved the atmosphere in the building. He feels the Islanders are a good fit for his son.
“I had identified teams that I’d love him to go to and the Islanders were right up there if not number one,” Bellows said. “ I just went to a game in Brooklyn for the playoffs. I loved the atmosphere, I loved the feel. I looked at their roster and the depth chart and the needs. Kieffer is the type of player that in a year or so can fit right in and play and help the team. To me, the fit was always more important than the number.”
Bellows is a power forward who can score and take care of himself. That type of player can fit in on most NHL teams. The Islanders have loaded up on forwards in the past three drafts, picking five in the first round alone, so there is some healthy competition on the prospect depth chart. Islanders coaches and management love internal competition, so adding Bellows - who General Manager Garth Snow calls a “bull” - intensifies that.
“I just bring a big element,” Bellows said. “I love to shoot, I love to score goals. I’m not afraid to be physical, I’m a power forward who plays a 200-foot game. I’m not afraid to go to the front of the net, wherever the goals are, I’ll go.”
Brian Bellows had a very good NHL career. He was drafted second overall in 1982, won a Stanley Cup in 1993 and when it was all said and done, hung up his skates with 1,022 points.
He thinks his son Kiefer will be better than he was.
“I think he is - like most sons of dads who have played - way better,” Brian said in the family room at First Niagara Center at the NHL Draft. “I was okay in my generation, but the way he shoots the puck and what i’ve seen him do with the puck and around the net, the passes, the shots, the moves, it’s pretty incredible.”
His fingerprints are on his son’s game. Brian calls him a throwback to the old style - the kind he played - physical, edgy and hard, combined with an ability to put the puck in the net.
The younger Bellows had 50 goals in 62 games last season for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, to go along with 31 assists and 101 penalty minutes. He’s in elite company as far as USANTDP goal scoring is concerned, right up there with Patrick Kane, Auston Matthews and Phil Kessel.
“He is a very talented player who likes to play the game hard,” Brian said. “He’ll play hard, he’ll mix it up, but he’s very skillful, very talented and you get the puck on his stick and he can do some amazing stuff.”
Brian introduced Kieffer to the game. His 17-year NHL career was ending when his son was born, so Kieffer had a more traditional hockey upbringing - more on Minnesota lakes than NHL surfaces.
“I grew up on a lake, on a pond and just like every other kid I learned to skate with my dad and my mom,” Kieffer said. “That’s how I wanted it. I learned from my dad, I started at three or four like every other kid.
It’s no surprise to see the son of an ex-NHLer take to the game like he did and it’s common to see second-generation players play in the NHL. Five sons of former players were picked in the first round of this year’s draft.”
Even without a backstage pass to the NHL, Kieffer benefitted from having a pro teach him the game.
“There’s a lot of pressure on you being the son of an ex-NHLer, but he’s taught me good ways to handle that,” he said. “The best advice he’s given me for media, fans and just in hockey in general is to be yourself. If you be yourself, then you’re good.”
Kieffer was a good high school player, scoring over a point-per-game for Edina High, but it was his year in Sioux Falls that really had his dad thinking he had NHL stuff. Under the tutelage of Cary Eades - who they invited to the draft in Buffalo - a 16-year-old Bellows scored 33 goals in the USHL, winning Rookie of the Year honors.
“Carey was hard on him that year, pushed him to a level that he probably didn’t think he could get to that quickly,” Brian said. “He ended up being rookie of the year in the USHL and he just took off from there. He always scored goals at a younger level, always was the dominant player, but when you start playing against kids that are four or five years older than you, that’s a big difference. And he still managed to excel.”
That breakthrough year actually started with disappointment for Bellows. He tried out for USA’s Hockey U-17 team, but didn’t make the cut. He channelled the frustration into fuel for the upcoming season and the next year, he went back to USA Hockey and made the U18 Team and scored 50 goals.
“The development team really prepared me,” Bellows said. “They helped me gain a lot of weight become bigger, stronger faster and it helps so much. Coach Cole, coach Luongo and Darryl with the strength training coach, they’ve done everything, they did a really good job.”
The results are there. Bellows is a sturdy 6’1, 195lbs., solid from his legs up to his neck. It’s a physique that looks like it puts the power in power forward and at 18 gives him a good base as he continues to fill out. He’s probably big enough to ride the ride in the NHL, but he’s opting to continue his development at Boston University this season.
“I feel ready, but it’s going to be 1-2 years at Boston University to most definitely be ready and that’s when I feel I can play in the NHL - after that,” Bellows said.
Whether it was playing on the pond in Minnesota, or giving him advice throughout his junior career, or helping him through the disappointment of not making the U17 team, Brian Bellows has helped his son get drafted to the NHL. And if Kieffer had his dad’s exact career, it would be a great one, but he wants to create his own legacy in the NHL.
“I’ve seen some similarities between us,” he said. “I wore 22 my junior career, but I’ll be wearing number 9 at BU and it’s all about starting your own legacy.”