BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — It didn’t take long for Kieffer Bellows to take advantage of his opportunity skating with top-liners Mathew Barzal and Kyle Palmieri.
Bellows, in a crowded battle to force his way onto the Islanders’ opening-night roster, converted Barzal’s two-on-one pass just 3:23 into Saturday’s preseason game against the Devils at Webster Bank Arena. The Islanders lost, 2-1, in overtime to a Devils’ squad largely devoid of NHL players.
"Even [at the end of last season], just having some chemistry with Barzy," said Bellows, who took a game-high seven shots. "I thought our line did really well today. I thought it was a good opportunity for me to really show my shooting ability and I felt I did that just working with Palms and Barzy. We could have had a lot more today."
Bellows, the 19th overall pick in 2016, has five goals and one assist in 22 games for the Islanders spread over the past two seasons. But he had a breakout season for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, with 22 goals and nine assists in 52 games.
He’s trying to earn a roster spot for the opener on Oct. 14 at Carolina against competition that includes among others, NHL veterans Leo Komarov, Richard Panik, Ross Johnston and Michael Dal Colle as well as fellow first-rounder Oliver Wahlstrom.
Coach Barry Trotz said Friday that Wahlstrom, who had 12 goals and nine assists in 44 games last season, was not having the best training camp and he repeated that after Saturday’s game.
"I thought there was a little inconsistency in his game," Trotz said. "There’s times when I thought he could do some things and there’s times where he tried to do too much. I don’t have any issues with Wahlly. Wahlly is going to get there for us. He hasn’t had his best camp so far."
Wahlstrom, like Bellows playing in his second preseason game, had three shots while skating on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s line with Zach Parise.
Unlike Bellows, Wahlstrom does not need to clear waivers to be re-assigned to Bridgeport. Bellows would likely be very attractive to another team if left exposed.
"You’re trying to prove yourself every single day," Bellows said. "I think every single day I’ve gotten better and better. I’m just trying to prove to them here that I want to stay here and I deserve to stay here.
"I think it was my puck battles and being hard on the puck and just confident with the puck in the offensive zone and defensive zone. Just all around the ice, I felt that I was really comfortable with the puck."
Trotz said Bellows’ performance on Saturday was what he expected when putting him on Barzal’s line.
"He got open," Trotz said. "He shot the puck. He was working. I had a lot of time for his game today."
Bellows got his opportunity partly because Anders Lee is still being held out of preseason games as the captain — expected to be ready for the season opener — is working his way back from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament suffered against the Devils on March 11.
The Devils dressed a lineup that included just goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, Jack Hughes, Andreas Johnsson, Yegor Sharangovich (who scored the overtime winner at 3:36) and defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler as players likely to be on their opening roster. Hughes exited midway through the second period after being cross-checked by Ross Johnston.
"NHLers are getting ready for the season," Trotz said. "The younger guys and bubble guys are all in because they’ve got to make an impression. The Devils put a lineup that was hard working with a sprinkle of skill."