The New York Islanders re-signed many of their restricted free agents recently, highlighted by the two young defensemen Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov receiving three-year deals. Among the players that were re-signed was 24-year-old forward Kieffer Bellows who signed a one-year deal. Aside from the contract being a team-friendly one, with $1.2 million against the salary cap, the move notably signaled that he will have a role on the roster in 2022-23.
Related: 3 New York Islanders Who May Have to Play a Different Position in 2022-23
Bellows has been an underwhelming player with the team, to say the least. In three seasons with the Islanders, he has only played in 67 games while scoring 11 goals and adding 13 assists. At 24 years old, it’s unlikely that the Islanders will see much if any improvement this season, but the hope is that the new setting with first-year coach Lane Lambert behind the bench can help him thrive. Specifically, with more ice time from the 11:33 that he has averaged in his career, he can be a key depth addition to the forward unit.
In all likelihood, Bellows will be a bottom-six forward next season. However, the role he plays in the forward unit and the line he plays on will be pivotal for both him and the team altogether, which is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2021-22 season.
The Pageau Line
This is the line that looks like the best one for Bellows. Jean-Gabriel Pageau is a reliable two-way center who often compensates for the other skaters on the ice if they struggle. Likewise, Pageau helps create open shots for his line and as the primary puck handler, helps the other skaters find open ice in the offensive zone. Bellows hasn’t been a productive forward offensively in part because of his minimal time on the ice and this line would allow him to ease his way into the offense without taking away from the Islanders’ scoring.
Bellows can benefit from Pageau and his two-way production from the center position. The question is if the Islanders would be better off with him on the left wing or having a proven skater instead playing that position in the middle-six. He has yet to prove he can be a regular on the forward unit and if he struggles, the offense will lack the much-needed scoring depth that cost the team last season. Josh Bailey, Kyle Palmieri, Zach Parise, and Oliver Wahlstrom will all play a middle-six forward role at some point next season and likely on the wing of Pageau as a result. With the Islanders having more than enough forwards that can already add to the offense, it’s likely the 24-year-old forward will only play on that line if injuries occur or in short stints, rather than as a regular.
Islanders Checking Line
The Islanders’ fourth line has given the team an edge in the past few seasons. Known as the “Identity Line”, Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck have imposed their will on opposing forwards with a strong forecheck to not only create turnovers in the offensive zone but often swing the momentum of games to the Islanders side. They might not add the offense like the other three forward lines, but they change the pace of the game and add an extra dimension to the team. Granted, the trio struggled last season, largely due to injuries with Clutterbuck’s year ending early with an upper-body injury. However, for the Islanders, the fourth line remains essential to their success.
Bellows playing on this line would be ideal for him to play a minimal role but also continue to make a mark on the forward unit. The fourth line is one of the oldest on the team with Cizikas being 31 years old while Martin and Clutterbuck are 33 and 34 respectively so understandably, there is an urge to add some youth to the line. Bellows would both add a younger presence to a strong checking line while keeping its defensive production at a high level. As a result, a likely scenario is for him to rotate games on the left wing with Martin to keep the veteran well rested, but also allow the line to continue to thrive as a checking unit.
What Bellows Adds to the Offense
Bellows particularly thrives in the north-south game when he is crashing the net from the wing. While he isn’t going to be a scorer and overwhelm opposing goaltenders with his shot or elevate the offense altogether, he will provide a different look on the forward unit, requiring opponents to adjust when he is on the ice. Furthermore, he is one of the better defensive forwards on the roster and will help the Islanders on the defensive end of the ice, which will be pivotal if the team transitions to a more offensive game in Lambert’s first season as head coach.
Last season, the Islanders saw a small glimpse of what Bellows can offer the team, playing in a career-high 45 games and stepping up for a roster that dealt with injuries throughout the year. While he won’t add a lot to the team per se, this season can be another step forward for him and the team. A lot of that success hinges on the line he’ll play on but more importantly, how he finds a way to make an impact in all three zones.