Leading up to the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Wild.com will take a look at the top 30 ranked skaters according to the International Scouting Service. The Minnesota Wild owns the 15th pick in the first round, which will take place Friday, June 24 at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y.
There's a certain intensity and professional approach that comes across in Kieffer Bellows when he talks about hockey. Maybe it's to be expected: Bellows has been around the game the past 18 years of his life.
Then again, Bellows just turned 18 on June 10, but already has the demeanor and attitude of a seasoned pro.
The Edina-native is projected to be a first round selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Tenth among North American skaters in the final ISS ranking, Bellows starts his answers to questions about what it will be like when he is drafted with, "If my name is called."
It's the territory and par for the course for the second-generation hockey player. His father, Brian, didn't have to wait long to hear his name called in the draft: The Minnesota North Stars used the second pick in 1982 to draft him.
Kieffer was born during the 1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Brian's Washington Capitals were playing the Detroit Red Wings. Since then, it's been a life of hockey for Kieffer, hanging around his dad at the rink, subconsciously digesting and developing habits, and, cultivating that intensity that drives him as he prepares to take the next step of his hockey career.
"The intensity, it's not a negative intensity," Bellows said. "I think of it as a positive because I'm trying to decide what's best for me in that time, and I'm trying to weigh in all the factors of what's going to help me in my career; what's going to help me grow as a person."
It's what helps him make his hockey decisions, choreographing each move to make sure his ceiling is only expanded and his progress maximized. Bellows left Edina after his sophomore year of high school to play in the United States Hockey League and Sioux Falls; he won a Clark Cup in 2015.
The next season, he reported to Ann Arbor, Mich. to join the United States National Development Team Program, a group made up of the best under-17 and 18-year-olds in the country.
"I look back and I think I left everything I could out in Sioux Falls, and personally, what was best for me was to leave for the USA NTDP," Bellows said. "It was a really good decision by me.
"There are so many great things up there that the NTDP does so well in the off-ice training, the on-ice training; they do a really good job there of making sure you're growing as a player, and maturing as a person."
Bellows' answers are workmanlike. He sounds like he's been drilled by a seasoned NHL public relations representative. His exposure and experience has come from in part also wearing the hat of "son" and a second-generation player.
"Hopefully he's learned some of that from me, but his attitude toward life is that way," said Brian, who had a 17-year playing career. "For me I look at it, and the words would be very focused. When you're focused like he is and you're willing to give up stuff that other teenagers — he sees the tradeoff. He's going to miss a school dance, or a prom, or living at home the last two years because he wants to achieve a goal."
His father said there is always a worry that, with a second-generation player, the desire to participate is genuine, and not bred out of wanting to emulate a parent.
"I don't care what anyone says: You can't instill passion," Brian said. "If you want to be good, you have to have discipline, but the passion just comes out. Nobody I know has ever invented a tonic that you can give kids passion for a sport, a hobby, an endeavor, no matter what it is. You don't get up and practice the violin just because your parents said so. You do it because you have a passion of wanting to be great."
So as Kieffer tried out other sports growing up, playing baseball, football, golf, and lots of lacrosse, they all fell by the wayside to make way for his passion for hockey.
"My parents really have never questioned that I wanted to play hockey," Bellows said. "They know and I've told them before that this is something I want to do the rest of my life, and this is something I don't want to stop doing. It's something I love, and I care about so much, and I put so much time and effort into it. I never want it to end."
The internal discipline, as his father calls it, comes across when Bellows is on the ice. He had an eye-opening year from the United States' NTDP team, scoring 50 goals in 62 games.
"He put a 50-spot in the goal category, and that's (Auston) Matthews, that's (Phil) Kessel, and that's (Patrick) Kane," said Danton Cole, Bellows' coach in Ann Arbor. "Those are the only guys to have done it before him. That certainly bodes well."
|50-goal seasons at united states national development team |
|Player ||Goal total ||Year |
|auston matthews ||55 ||2014-15 |
|patrick kane ||52 ||2005-06 |
|phil kessel ||52 ||2003-04 |
|phil kessel ||52 ||2004-05 |
|Kieffer bellows ||50 ||2015-16 |
Cole said Bellows' transition from the USHL to the NTDP was seamless, in part because of the quick chemistry he was able to create with forward Clayton Keller, who came in one spot ahead of Bellows in the ISS' final ranking of North American skaters.
"We bonded pretty early, and we became, you could say 'brothers' pretty early," Bellows said. "I don't know, I just think the way he can tell that I'm open, and make myself open for him."
Luckily for the duo, both forwards are committed to play at Boston University in the fall, where, like in Ann Arbor, Bellows said he thinks a competitive environment will mesh with his personality.
"I'm going to become a better player and person when I'm there just because of the fact that Coach (David) Quinn wants each of his players to become better and better every single day," Bellows said.
As for the player he is now, while his father and Cole both agreed it's hard to ignore the goal scoring, they also said there are so many other ways he can influence a game.
"When he's playing his best, he plays his game a bit like (Alex) Ovechkin does," Cole said. "He skates, he's physical, he's going to shoot pucks, and he's going to score. He's done that at every level."
Brian said it's also clear his son understands the intricacies of hockey, from spacing the ice, to finding the soft spots in the offensive zone that goal scorers like Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos have a knack for sniffing out.
"For hockey people, following angles for knowing which way to forecheck," Brian said. "Even in your defensive end, to know the right position to be. Some of that can be taught depending on the system, but just that individual ability, figuring out the whole game and knowing where to be is an intangible that scouts look and realize, and hockey people say, 'Yeah, he can see it.'"
But Bellows' bread-and-butter is his shot, which accounts for Cole's ink-blot comparison to Ovechkin, who has scored more goals than anyone since entering the NHL in in 2005.
"His caliber of shot is unique in the sense that he can score from 20, 30 feet away," Brian said. "Not many players possess and NHL-style shot and can do that."
Brian and family will be on hand in Buffalo for the draft. His side of the family includes relatives in St. Catherines, about a 30-minute drive from downtown, where the draft will be held.
"It's an exciting moment for any family," Brian said. "In the same factor, I tell him it's one day. You're going to wake up the next day and the work continues."
Exciting, even if, according to Kieffer, nothing is set in stone.
"If that moment happens, it's going to be pretty surreal," he said.
Sioux Falls Photos Courtesy Chad Phillips Photography