There’s been plenty of compare-and-contrasts between sharpshooting rookies Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows. The former has solidified a spot in the Islanders’ lineup while the latter has played in small stretches but has yet to earn coach Barry Trotz’s complete trust.
Trotz has 22 seasons of experience in how best to acclimate young players into the NHL and has said several times recently Bellows "is going to be a really good pro."
But with the trade deadline looming on April 12, it’s fair to wonder exactly for whom that message is meant. Bellows, the 19th overall pick in 2016, is one of the Islanders’ most valuable prospects. Surely, other organizations ask about him in any trade discussions.
Trotz could just be answering the questions asked. Or, he could be trying to assure other organizations of Bellows’ potential.
Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello has made no secret that he’s looking to offset the season-ending loss of captain Anders Lee (torn right anterior cruciate ligament). Lee has been placed on long-term injured reserve, so Lamoriello can use his $7 million salary cap hit to spend over the $81.5 million ceiling.
"The biggest thing for young players making an impression and having lasting success in the NHL is gaining the trust of the coach," Trotz said. "That starts with details on both sides of the puck.
"Rookies, they’ve got to bring the juice. They’ve got to be noticeable night in and night out."
Bellows played well enough in training camp to earn a spot in the opening night lineup on third-line center Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s right wing. He played the season’s first four games and seven of the first eight without a point.
Then, Trotz used him on top-line center Mathew Barzal’s left wing in the first four games after Lee’s injury. Bellows had three goals in the first two games. Those are his only points in 13 games this season.
"He went eight games, not a lot of happening," Trotz said. "We put him back in and then he got hot again and then he fell off."
Trotz has made it clear Bellows’ defensive game must improve.
"It doesn’t mean Kieffer can’t get it turned around," Trotz said. "Kieffer’s going to be a really good pro. Lots of detail. He can score. He’s got a really good shot. Down the stretch, Kieffer’s going to be a pretty important piece for us."
Could be a promise. Or, it could be a scouting report for the rest of the NHL.
Mathew Barzal is racking up goal-of-the-year candidates. The latest came in Thursday’s 8-4 win over the Capitals at Nassau Coliseum as he skated end-to-end, in, around and past defenders Tom Wilson, Zdeno Chara and Nick Jensen and lifted a shot past Vitek Vanecek at 16:09 of the first period en route to his third career hat trick.
Some instantly remarked it was Bobby Orr-like.
The 23-year-old Barzal admitted he doesn’t have many recollections of the Bruins Hall of Fame defenseman — "I don’t think we’re similar players" — but said he’s tried to be more aggressive skating to the crease this season rather than pulling up and skating the puck wide.
"A little bit more of an attack mentality," Barzal said.
Barzal, stepping on the ice for Casey Cizikas, recognized the Capitals’ defenders were tiring late in their shift.
"I’m just taking my ice," Barzal said. "I got a good change from Zeeker. I knew those guys were a little tired and maybe we’re going to be looking to change. I knew two of their guys were in battles with our defensemen. I just had a little bit of a step."
The goal was heralded on social media and his teammates also found it spectacular.
"As much as I hate talking good about him," good friend Anthony Beauvillier said with a laugh, "he’s just a different player in his game. Somehow, he looks faster and better out there."
"We’ve seen him do it time and time again," said defenseman Nick Leddy, likely the team’s best skater other than Barzal. "It just amazes me how good he is on his edges and how fast he comes out of turns. Those first few strides he has are so explosive."
Mathew Barzal, with three career hat tricks, has a long way to go to reach the top of the Islanders’ all-time list for three-goal games. But Barzal could certainly move into the club’s top five:
1. 39 – Mike Bossy (1977-87)
2. 16 – Bryan Trottier (1975-89)
3. 8 – John Tavares (2009-18); Pierre Turgeon (1991-95)
4. 7 – Pat LaFontaine (1984-91)
5. 6 – Derek King (1987-97); Ziggy Palffy (1994-99); Brent Sutter (1981-91)