EAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- Standing on the ice at Bell Centre in Montreal on Jan. 5, New York Islanders forward prospect Kieffer Bellows was soaking in a moment he knew he'd never forget.
He and his United States teammates had just won the gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship following a 5-4 shootout victory against Canada. Bellows, the Islanders' first-round pick (No. 19) at the 2016 NHL Draft, finished the tournament with three points (two goals, one assist) in seven games. He scored two goals against Canada in the gold-medal game.
"World Juniors was really special," said Bellows, who recently participated in his second development camp with the Islanders. "I made a lot of friendships, a lot of brotherhoods for a long time. The whole thing was just really special."
Bellows then returned to Boston University, which he attended as a freshman. He finished the collegiate season with 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 34 games. Boston University lost 3-2 to Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA tournament West Regional final.
Shortly after the season ended, Bellows, the son of former NHL forward Brian Bellows, decided he was going to leave school for Portland of the Western Hockey League.
"This will be an important year for him, and we're excited to see him continue to grow as an important prospect for the organization," Islanders director of player development Eric Cairns said.
The opportunity to constantly work on his game was one Bellows couldn't pass up. There's also a solid chance he'll skate on the same line with center Cody Glass, who was selected in the first round (No. 6) by the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2017 NHL Draft.
"Play more games," Bellows told NHL.com. "I think just the 72 games in the [WHL] regular season is the biggest thing. I can't thank [Boston University coach David] Quinn enough and all the guys on the team. I had an unbelievable first year at Boston University, but I just felt it was best for me to go and play more games.
"I didn't really think about it until the end of the year. I kind of sat back and thought about it, and I just felt it was best for me. The whole season, I really wanted to win a national championship with those guys. We were a close-knit group. I'll never forget those guys. They were awesome."
Bellows said his plan is to play one season for Portland before joining the Islanders for the 2018-19 season. He'll try to improve all areas of his game, with a focus on his skating.
"I think I just need to improve on my first three steps and my skating," said Bellows, who turned 19 on June 10. "In the corners too, staying low … I think everybody's game can improve, and I can just improve my game a lot.
"I think if I keep working hard, keep improving a lot, it's really close. I'm just getting a little taste of it right now. It's really awesome, the coaching staff being there for you, supporting you, working you."