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Isles GM Lou Lamoriello concerned about rushing young players

Islanders left wing Kieffer Bellows skates during training

Islanders left wing Kieffer Bellows skates during training camp at Northwell Health Ice Center on Jan. 13. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

So Kieffer Bellows had a rough outing in Pittsburgh on Thursday night after entering the lineup in place of fellow first-round pick Michael Dal Colle.

Those things happen with young players, and it must be noted that the Islanders’ 4-1 loss represented only the 16th NHL game for the 22-year-old Bellows, picked 19th overall in 2016.

Short of winning the next Stanley Cup, the most important thing to come out of this season for the Islanders may be the integration of former first-rounders such as defenseman Noah Dobson, Oliver Wahlstrom, Dal Colle and Bellows into varying degrees of important roles at the NHL level.

Because when it comes to younger players, it’s imperative to take a big-picture view.

So says Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, who has run NHL franchises since taking over the Devils in 1987 and has won three Stanley Cups. He doesn’t like how young players are rushed these days, in part because their cheaper contracts are needed under a salary cap.

"It’s crucial for a lot of reasons," Lamoriello said of the importance of having young players develop into NHL roles. "Not only salary cap but because they’re your future.

"The growth pattern in the NHL is, unless it’s a superstar coming out of juniors, college or Europe, which are few and far between, it takes time to develop. Young players are rushed out there. I go back to a lot of organizations and the number of years that players spend in the minors. You know, I only had in all my years in New Jersey two players that didn’t spend time in the minors. And those two players had made the team but were sent back to juniors because they couldn’t go to the minors.

"And here we are, we’re expecting them to compete right away," Lamoriello added. "They need two or three years of growth and we’re rushing them. All of us. Because of the free agency that is so young [age 27] and the salary cap. You’ve got to have patience. They’ve got to have patience with themselves. You’ve got to explain it to them and you’re going to have to work with them."

Lamoriello also said added pressure comes because few NHL franchises can afford to be in development or rebuild mode.

"That’s a very difficult world in the NHL or any pro sport — rebuilding," he said. "You’re expected to win and that’s what our job is."  

Not tired at all

Defenseman Andy Greene, 38 and in his 16th NHL season, is the Islanders’ elder statesman.

Coach Barry Trotz used the same six defensemen in the first 16 games, but Greene said he’s not being worn down by the condensed 56-game schedule.

If anything, he said playing multiple games in one city — the Islanders had two games in Buffalo and two in Pittsburgh this past week — makes it easier to stay fresh.

"I feel good," said Greene, acquired from the Devils on Feb. 16, 2020. "The schedule is compressed but it is a little bit different. Now we’re doing two- or three-game sets in cities. It cuts down the travel a lot. Even when we do have back-to-backs, they’re in the same city. Plenty of time to recover and I feel great."  

Repeat offender

Top-pair defenseman Adam Pelech snapped a string of three straight games with at least one minor penalty in Thursday’s 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Pulock trusted that his partner wasn’t falling into bad habits.

"It’s just a couple of different little breaks," he said. "A stick on stick and he knocks his hands. It’s just going to happen. We don’t want him in there. He is one of our key [penalty] killers."

All of Pelech’s penalties came against a top-six forward. He cross-checked the Bruins’ David Pastrnak in a 4-2 win on Feb. 13. He tripped Jeff Skinner in a 3-1 win in Buffalo on Monday, leading to a power-play goal for the Sabres. In Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Sabres, he held Eric Staal and slashed Taylor Hall.

Trotz said he wants Pelech to maintain his aggressive defensive play.

"I want him to play the same way," Trotz said. "I think it’s happenstance. Sometimes you’re going to get tangled up against good players. I want him to be aggressive. I want him to be firm on people. I think those are random things that are happening."  

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