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Bellows & Wahlstrom’s Bond Pushing One Another Amid Battle for Starting Spot

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New York Islanders, Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows

Due to the lack of moves made this offseason by general manager Lou Lamoriello, the New York Islanders forward group seemed just about set when training camp began, with one everyday spot up for grabs. Although there have been some strong showings from prospects like Aatu Räty and Simon Holmstrom, Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows are the likely options for that final spot, as their playing time duel carries over from last season.

Following the shortened 2020-21 season, a 20-year-old Oliver Wahlstrom showcased an ability to be a legitimate sniper at the NHL level, having scored 12 goals in 44 games. At that point in time, 22-year-old Kieffer Bellows was still struggling to see NHL minutes, having played just 14 games with three goals that season, with his ability to be an everyday NHL player in question.

But the narrative changed in 2021-22.

Oliver Wahlstrom struggled to adjust to former head coach Barry Trotz’s defensive-minded system in his second season, while Kieffer Bellows adapted accordingly.

Wahlstrom lit the lamp 13 times in 73 games last season but found himself benched for his defensive mistakes, even being a healthy scratch. Bellows, in 43 games, scored six goals and threw his weight around with 103 hits.

Come the end of the season, it seemed Bellows had the leg-up over Wahlstrom. His play earned him a new one-year deal, worth $1.2 million, which gave Bellows a boost of confidence.

Other people would call this battle between the two young forwards a rivalry, but like any set of teammates, it’s always about helping the team when called upon–not about individual success.

Wahlstrom and Bellows have a rather strong friendship off the ice, knowing each other even before their New York Islander days. That friendship has grown over the last few years, using their bond to push one another.

“We’ve kind of been together since World Junior evaluation when he came in as a young guy, I think, an under-ager in Michigan,” Kieffer Bellows said. “And knew each other then, you know, obviously, him getting drafted here. We had a good relationship, built off of it.”

“You know, we’re both shooters, so we both like talk about the same stuff and work on the same stuff before and after practice. So we spent a lot of time together, and he’s just honestly just a really hardworking, good kid, and he’s a lot of fun to be around.”

The young shooting duo are both former first-round selections by New York, with Kieffer Bellows being taken 19th overall in 2016 and Oliver Wahlstrom being taken 11th overall in 2018.

“He’s a good kid,” Oliver Wahlstrom said. “We have fun on the ice, and we work with each other and have fun off the ice.”

As for battling his friend for ice time, it’s strictly business, said Wahlstrom.

“Yeah, obviously, it’s competition,” Wahlstrom said. “At the same time, we’re working and competing and having fun doing it. I mean, it’s part of the game.”

For Bellows, the battle pushes both of them to be the best they can be.

“I think, you know, Wahlstrom and I both know that if we are pushing one another, then good things are gonna come,” Bellows shared. “Like I said before, we’re both shooters, we both love to score goals, but, you know, if we’re both pushing each other, working with each other to be better, that’s the way it’s going to go.”

“You know, he wants me to be successful. I want him to be successful…We’re good friends, and that’s what we want out of each other, to help the team.”

Head coach Lane Lambert, who has stated that the 2021-22 season is a clean slate for his players, believes that internal competition is important.

I feel like, you know, they’re pushing one another, and they’re also being pushed by others as well,” Lambert said. “So, I said from the start, the internal competition is going to be good, and I think we’ve had that.”

There are still a few more preseason games, and a handful of practices before the New York Islanders take on the Florida Panthers on Oct. 13. Until then, this battle for ice time rolls on, and as Lambert continues to say, the players will answer the questions for us.

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