A few notes and observations left over from last week’s Islanders prospect camp:
Kieffer Bellows is pumped to be heading to the Western League after a year at Boston University. Bellows looked good in the big games. He played well in BU’s back-to-back overtime games in the NCAA regionals and he was a strong contributor to the U.S. team’s gold-medal performance in the World Junior tournament in December.
But Bellows never quite cracked the upper echelon of BU’s elite group of forwards, and Portland in the WHL has been a factory for producing NHL players the last decade. Cody Glass, the sixth overall pick by Vegas, and Henri Jokiharju, the 29th pick by the Hawks, are both current Portland players.
“Caleb Jones was talking to me all through World Junior to get me to go there,” Bellows said. Caleb Jones is Seth Jones’ younger brother. “[Coach] Mike Johnston really knows how to prepare guys for the NHL. I enjoyed my time at BU and I think this is going to get me ready to be a pro.”
The switch to Canadian junior hockey benefits the Islanders, of course, because Bellows will turn pro after this coming season rather than keeping the possibility of staying in college another year or two. It was clear through two scrimmages and a week of skills work that no Islanders forward prospect has a better or harder shot.
Mathew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang
Mathew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang have been written about plenty already and both had the look of players who have been through this week before. That’s not to say either of them were jaded about the prospect camp, knowing that the big camp in September is where their focus is.
Barzal in particular seemed attentive to detail. He said he thought he’d been guilty of “trying to do too much” in the latter stages of both his previous Islanders training camps and that may have cost him a spot in 2015 – he was very, very close to being on the roster that season – and cost him valuable playing time at the start of last season, when he did stick with the Isles for a few weeks before going back to Seattle of the WHL.
Ho-Sang is Ho-Sang – a young man who is very comfortable being who he is while also understanding that there’s work to be done.
The various scouts and development people in the Islanders organization, like any organization, are eager to see what their draft picks and prospects will do. They are prone to hyperbole sometimes and you can see why – they’ve staked a lot on even late-round picks.
Last year at this time, one member of the organization said, “Keep an eye on Devon Toews.” He was right: Toews ended up on the AHL’s All-Rookie team and now is trying to break into the group of young defensemen (Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech) who have a chance to play some real minutes with the Isles this season.
This year it was, “Keep an eye on Parker Wotherspoon.” Wotherspoon doesn’t turn 20 until next month but he’s a pro now after another standout season for Tri-City in the WHL. He’s a terrific skater and has plenty of offensive instincts, a bit like Toews who is a fellow British Columbia kid.
“I got to see him a bit when I came up at the end of the season and he’s a really good player,” Wotherspoon said. “He really showed what he can do last season.”
Wotherspoon has been getting some advice from older brother Tyler, who plays in the Flames’ organization. “That’s been more like stuff I’m going to need to do living on my own – cooking, shopping, that sort of thing,” Parker said.
Sebastian Aho signed with the Islanders on Wednesday, just as head scout Vellu Kautonen hoped the 21-year-old would when the Isles selected Aho in the fifth round last month. The defenseman had a breakout 2016-17 with Skelleftea, his pro club in Sweden the last four years, posting 10 goals and 20 assists in 50 games.
“I got a lot of power play time and that helped,” Aho said. “Otherwise I just had a lot of confidence in how I was playing.”
Aho had a solid week of camp. He’ll likely need time to develop, even at the AHL level, where Brent Thompson will have a pretty solid corps to start this coming season. Aho, Toews, Wotherspoon, Mitch Vande Sompel and AHL veterans Seth Helgeson and Kane Lafranchise, along with possibly one of the Pelech/Mayfield/Pulock group could make Bridgeport a strong group on defense.
Ryan Hitchcock was one of the undrafted camp invitees who shined. The Manhasset native played for the Long Island Gulls 2011 bantam team that made the national semifinals alongside future Blue Jackets first-rounder Sonny Milano and Leafs draft pick J.J. Piccinich; Charlie McAvoy and Jeremy Bracco, two more first-rounders, were a year behind Hitchcock.
Now 21 and entering his senior year at Yale, Hitchcock came to Isles prospect camp with one goal in mind. “Just to get noticed,” he said. “They showed interest in me and I want to continue my career after next season.”
Hitchcock will be Yale’s captain next season and he’ll certainly stay on the Isles’ radar.
Scott Eansor was Barzal’s teammate in Seattle the past three seasons and the 21-year-old Eansor showed enough last week to earn an AHL contract. The Islanders are painfully thin at forward at the AHL level, so Eansor could get a decent run this coming season.
Another interesting invite was goaltender Mareks Mitens. He was in net for Latvia at the World Junior tournament, which is a tough assignment for his home country, but the 19-year-old was the North American Hockey League MVP this past season and is headed to Lake Superior State in the fall.
This was a strong camp for goaltenders. Linus Soderstrom was the big star and Eamon McAdam is heading into his second pro season, which left little room for quality understudies. But Mitens looked good, as did Tanner Jaillet, who won an NCAA title with Denver in April and was named top NCAA goaltender.