Kieffer Bellows, the Isles’ 2016 first round draft pick, has not had a straight path to the NHL. Drafted by the Isles out of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Bellows was committed to following the NCAA route and spent his Draft + 1 Year at Boston University in 2016-2017. BU is however always a great hockey program, and that year’s team was particularly stacked. Bellows failed to stand out among that year’s team, so he opted against rejoining the team for his sophomore season.
Instead he played his Draft + 2 year in the WHL, where he put up 41 goals and 33 assists in 56 Games for the Portland Winterhawks.
Now too old for juniors, the question is what is the next step for Bellows and where will he play this year?
Where Will Kieffer Bellows begin the 2018-2019 Season?
The AHL. Next article, we’re done here.
Editor: You’re not getting away with that, Garik, provide some detail.
Okay, fine fine, spoilsports. The Isles have always been fairly conservative with prospects, tending to want them to prove themselves in the AHL before getting the call up to the big team - see for example Ryan Strome (a better prospect than Bellows at the same point in his career), Brock Nelson, Josh Ho-Sang, Michael Dal Colle, etc.
The exceptions have been prospects that the Isles have absolutely loved - Mat Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier being the most recent examples of which. But not only were those two better prospects than Bellows (though Beau was a lower draft pick), but the Isles had shown interest in giving them each NHL ice time before their Draft +2 season, which they’ve never shown at all with Bellows.
As such, it seems pretty clear that Bellows will be destined for the AHL to start the season, although the Isles might give him an extended look in preseason games just the same.
Will Bellows make the NHL team at any point this year?
This is a more interesting question and it requires us to look at what Bellows has done since his draft year and what Isles fans can expect. Bellows is well known for his cannon of a shot, as he demonstrated in this year’s World Juniors. But whether he can be a complete hockey player is another question.
As I mentioned above, Bellows’ one year at Boston University was not particularly successful. He put up 7 goals and 7 assists in 34 games and wasn’t able to break onto BU’s first power play unit. According to Judy Cohen, who tracked that year’s BU’s power play on her blog and presented on the subject at this year’s Hockey Analytic’s Conference in Rochester — RITSAC — Bellows essentially stood in one place on the power play and fired off shots. None of his 15 passes made on the power play when tracked even led to any of his teammates getting off shots.
In short, it was not a successful year against a higher level of competition than the USHL.
In the WHL — a lower level of competition — Bellows put up more normal numbers for a Draft +2 player. But that’s the key word: “normal” — Bellows ranked 19th in the league in points per game, which is good, but hardly exceptional for a Draft + 2 player.
For comparison, Mat Barzal was third as a Draft + 2 player in the same league the year before, and Anthony Beauvillier was 3rd in the QMJHL as a Draft +1 player two years prior. These aren’t numbers that immediately scream “NHL Ready” but rather “Not a bust just yet.”
You’ll note I don’t mention Bellows’ World Juniors numbers anywhere above. At this point in his career, small sample tourney results against players who are often younger is not really something we should care too much about, especially compared to a full season’s worth of data.
Bellows will have to show off more in the AHL, which is a big jump from juniors, where Bellows was the big experienced veteran last year and now will instead take the spot as a rookie. Last time Bellows took a big jump — to the College ranks — he failed to impress, and Bellows will have to do better this time in order to earn playing time in the NHL.
If the Isles have a bad season, it’s possible the team will call him up late in the season just to get a look at him — but it’s more likely going to be up to Bellows to impress the team’s scouts to get a look at the big club.
Conclusion: He’s a Sound Tiger All Year
Personally, if I had to guess? He’s not going to leave the AHL this year. I’m not saying he won’t wind up a productive NHL player, but the team is going to have trouble finding open roster spots with its glut of bottom sixers and its top six being pretty established.
There are also a few guys who were in the AHL last year who should be ahead of Bellows. And like I mentioned above, Bellows hasn’t shown us in the past two years any signs he’s clearly above the curve for a prospect. Isles fans will be watching eagerly for those signs down in Bridgeport this season, and can hope for the best.