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Bellows to Play for Team USA, No Concern that Wahlstrom is Not

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Kieffer Bellows and Michael Pezzetta New York Islanders (Photo- Montreal Canadiens via Twitter)

On Thursday, Team USA announced its roster for the 2022 IIHF Men’s National Tournament which will take place in Finland from May 13th to May 29th.  One of the players participating is New York Islanders forward Kieffer Bellows.

In 45 games with the New York Islanders in 2021-22, the 23-year-old Kieffer Bellows notched six goals and 13 assists in 11:52 ATOI. He also added 103 hits and 14 blocks.

Bellows ended the season on a high note, with four points over his last five contests, and played in the last 10 games of the season, having accumulated two goals and four assists (6 points) over that span.

As you can see from his hits and blocks, Bellows has shown his ability without the puck on his stick. And especially this season, we have seen Kieffer Bellows start to understand the defensive system in place and where to position himself on the ice to help his teammates.

“Personally, I, you know, I’d like to think that I grew a lot as a player with my all-around game, but that comes a lot from just the guys that we have in the locker room with the leadership that we have,” Bellows said following the Islanders last game of the season back on Apr. 29. “I mean, it comes from watching the work ethic of the veterans and just, you know, learning the game the right way from the coaches.”

“I don’t think, you know, it’s ever success when you’re not in the playoffs. So I would like to personally step up my game and help the team next year to push for that.”

During his exit interview the next day, New York Islanders captain Anders Lee spoke highly on the way Bellows finished the season.

“For Kieffer to close out the year the way he has, it was great to see,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “But for me, I see it not only in this game but just the mental side of it, of growing and being tough and handling all the things that this game throws at you and being able to, you know, show up every day and have, you know, a good attitude, a smile on your face, and there’s a reason why he got rewarded with that with his play at the end of the year.”

Playing for Team USA will allow the confident Bellows to continue staying in game form, and given the squad, minutes should be at a premium for the 23-year-old forward.

Bellows has played for Team USA before, most recently at the U-20 level in 2018, where he scored nine goals in seven games, setting a new American record.

Kieffer Bellows’s teammate, another American in Oliver Wahlstrom, is not on Team USA’s roster. But that is not a cause for concern.

There is no information as to why the 21-year-old Wahlstrom is not playing, as usually, this is an invite rather than a tryout. But regardless of the reason, him not playing is what is probably best.

Unlike Bellows, Wahlstrom did not end his season on the right foot…skate.

Despite a 13-goal, 11-assist season, Wahlstrom only saw an average of 12:04 TOI in 73 games. In 2020-21, Wahlstrom scored 12 goals, and nine assists in 44 games, having averaged 12:23 TOI.

Oliver Wahlstrom went scoreless in his final 13 games of his season, with just one assist. His struggles with his two-way game landed him in the press box often this season, and his lack of production saw his minutes cut short when he did play.

With a long offseason for the first time in his NHL career, after a full 82-game schedule for the first time, now is the time for him to focus on his game and improve, which is why missing the tournament is no biggie.

“This summer, I’m gonna work on shooting, goal scoring, skating. You know, on my nutrition, everything,” Wahlstrom said during his ext interview. “It wasn’t the exact year I wanted, but yeah, I can just learn from this year and have good meetings with Lou and Barry and just go from there.

“I know the type of player I can be, and I still have confidence in myself. So yeah, just go from there.”

New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz was hard on Oliver Wahlstrom this season, calling him out directly and indirectly in the media. But Wahlstrom understood where his coach was coming from.

“I need tough love sometimes,” Wahlstrom said.  “It’s part of the game. It’s part of the business. Yeah, it was just, you know, ups and downs for me obviously this year, but no, you know, I love the game, and I take information and try to use that and use that to different parts of my game. So yeah, it was a good learning experience for sure.”

Wahlstrom added, “And as part of the business, I’m young, I still have things to work on. And, you know, I’m excited to work on those things. And like I said, I know the type of player I can be and the confidence I can get.”

Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom both can be parts of the Islanders future, both needing to work on different things to become more consistent at the NHL level. Their career paths are different, and with both still at a young age, it’s about getting better, and the offseason is the best time to.

Bellows will use the IIHF Tournament to stay on top of his game, while Wahlstrom will use the offseason to focus on his weaknesses.

“Those guys are on the right track, Kyle Palmieri said during his exit interview. “They’re both really talented players. They’re guys that are built well. It’s not like they have to put on muscle or anything like that. It’s really just continue to work on their game and making sure you’re putting yourself in the best position that when that time comes to have an expanded role and an opportunity, that they’re ready to seize it.”

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