After one year of college hockey at Boston University, Kieffer Bellows is playing in the Canadian juniors for the WHL's Portland Winterhawks. Bellows, the Islanders 2016 first-round pick (19th overall) is off to a blistering start of his junior career, with 40 points (19G, 21A) in 31 games this season.
Bellows is currently at Team USA's World Junior training camp in Columbus, OH, as he prepares to defend his World Junior gold medal. That's where NewYorkIslanders.com caught up with the Islanders prospect to talk about World Juniors and his first season in juniors.
NewYorkIslanders.com: So, how's your first season in junior going?
Kieffer Bellows: It's going well. I'm having a lot of fun, the coaching staff is fantastic, the guys on the team are great and I have no complaints. I'm loving it.
NYI: What are the big differences between college and junior?
Bellows: Just the amount of games you play. I think the transition game is a lot faster. The league is younger. There are a lot of skilled guys in the league. I think it's just a well-rounded league and helps you prepare for the NHL. Road trips are long, but they are a lot of fun, you get closer to the guys.
NYI: I was going to ask about the travel - especially playing in Portland. How have the marathon bus trips been?
Bellows: It's obviously something I had to adapt to, especially having a 13-day road trip going to Alberta, but I love it. You get to spend time with the guys and you get a lot closer. Funny stories, the bonds you grow during those trips are something you'll never forget.
NYI: You're playing with Vegas' 2017 first-round pick (6th overall) Cody Glass this season. What's it been like playing on a line together and is he similar to another linemate you've had in Clayton Keller?
Bellows: Cody is a fantastic player, but even better guy off the ice. He's so special, his playmaking ability, his hockey IQ is incredible. He's got one of the more underrated shots in the WHL. I'd compare him to Clayton Keller. Cody is a bit bigger, Clayton is a bit smaller, but they are both really unique players. Their hockey mind is unbelievable, their hockey IQ is off the charts and their playmaking ability is second-to-none. I can't wait to see Cody play in the NHL.
NYI: What were your goals heading into this year?
Bellows: I just wanted to round out my game, so I can hopefully play in the NHL next year. I just want to be a complete two-way player and be 100 per cent in the D zone, neutral zone and offensive zone while being the shooter that I am. Shooting the puck all the time and making plays and being offensive.
Editor's Note: Bellows hasn't gone more than three games without a point this season and pieced together a 12-game point streak.
NYI: You've been scoring consistently in the WHL this season. What does that do for your confidence to see the puck go in regularly?
Bellows: Having those points really boosts your confidence, but some of the best hockey I've played is when I haven't gotten a point in the game. I think my all-around game has really improved with [head coach and GM Mike Johnston] just helping me out as much as possible, associate coach Danny Flynn and assistant coach Kyle Gustavson they've done a really good job of helping me round out my game and become a complete player and get ready for next year.
NYI: You're in Columbus for World Junior camp, what's the feeling heading into camp and this year's tournament?
Bellows: Excitement. World Juniors on my home soil is something that not many people get to do in their lifetime and especially with the outdoor game this year against Canada that will be something to remember forever.
Editor's Note: Bellows is rooming with Buffalo Sabres 2017 first-round pick (8th overall) Casey Mittelstadt.
NYI: What memories does this tournament bring up for you? Obviously the gold medal, but what memories do you have from that game/experience?
Bellows: The chills still go down my back you know. The feeling of jumping off that bench with your 23 brothers that you battled through a whole month with. It's something special, just the gold medal around your neck singing the national anthem, it's something that none of those guys will ever forget and we still talk about.
NYI: You'll be a returning player this season. Are you going to be taking on a leadership role as a veteran player?
Bellows: I'm just trying to be the player I am. The coaches are just evaluating everyone and do the best they can to create the best team they can. Obviously with me having experience from last year I personally want to take on a leadership role and try to help these guys who haven't been here before and try to help them adjust.
UPDATE: Bellows was named an alternate captain on Saturday.