COLUMBUS, Ohio – Kieffer Bellows could very well find himself a healthy scratch again when the Islanders continue their 13-game road trip on Thursday night against the Blue Jackets given Anders Lee was listed as "probable" after a non-COVID-19 stomach ailment sidelined him last game.
But that doesn’t lessen the importance of having Bellows and fellow first-round forward Oliver Wahlstrom being able to contribute to the lineup. Wahlstrom scored two goals in Tuesday night’s 4-1 win at Chicago while Bellows logged 12:59 in his season debut, starting in Lee’s spot on Mathew Barzal’s left wing before coach Barry Trotz juggled both his line combinations and defensive pairs.
"It is [important], not only for our franchise but for every franchise," said Trotz after Wednesday’s lightly attended, optional practice at Nationwide Arena, citing the need for contributions from younger, cheaper players under the stagnant, $81.5 million salary cap. "There’s some backside pressure there, which you need. You need it for the salary cap. You need it for freshness and you need it to continue filling spots. You’re always going to lose players over the years."
Neither Wahlstrom nor Bellows participated in Wednesday’s practice while Lee was able to ride the exercise bicycle and Trotz reported the captain had regained some color after feeling so ill.
Wahlstrom, the 12th overall pick in 2018, now has three goals in his last two games for the Islanders (1-2-0), including Saturday’s 5-1 loss at Florida. His third line, with center Jean-Gabriel Pageau and left wing Zach Parise, was the team’s most consistent on Tuesday. Trotz said Wahlstrom, who has a lethal wrist shot, is most effective when he keeps his legs moving and doesn’t get caught watching plays.
"Just play up and down my wing and keep the game simple and get my shot off," said Wahlstrom, who took a career-high eight shots against Chicago. "I’m working on still playing without the puck, that’s a big part of what we do as a team. The details of the game. I just put my head down and work hard and wait for goals. Once you keep working it will come."
Bellows was selected 19th overall in 2016 and has five goals and an assist in 23 NHL games as he continues to try and earn a regular role with the Islanders.
He cannot be re-assigned to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport without clearing waivers, likely not a risk president and general manager Lou Lamoriello is willing to take.
"I don’t see any problem with not being in the lineup," said Bellows, who wound up swapping spots with Anthony Beauvillier against Chicago and playing on Brock Nelson’s left wing. "I’m a competitive person and I want to play every single game. I feel like I can help this team. But the coaches and Lou know what they’re doing and I trust in this organization.
"I’ll play anywhere in the lineup. I’m confident in my abilities and I’m confident I’m a good hockey player out there."