When it comes to drafting 18-year-olds, it’s an inexact science because everything is based on projection and so much can change by the time a teenager matures into a man.
When it comes to Kieffer Bellows, the Edina native who should hear his name in the first round Friday night at the NHL draft in Buffalo, N.Y., there’s no need for meticulous probing to figure out exactly what he’s good at.
“He’s a goal scorer. That’s what he says he is, and that’s what he does. He scores,” Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr said.
The son of former North Star Brian Bellows, Kieffer won a state championship with Edina as a sophomore in 2014. The following year, he headed to Sioux Falls, S.D., where he was named the United States Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year and helped the Stampede capture the Clark Cup with nine playoff goals.
Bellows scored 33 goals in the regular season, the most for a 16-year-old in the USHL Tier I era (since 2002).
This past season, he played for the United States National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. He scored 50 goals, including 12 power-play goals and nine game-winning goals. Only Auston Matthews, the anticipated first overall pick in the draft, Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane scored more.
Frankly, Bellows has a lot of the same traits as his dad, who forged a 16-year career with 485 goals and 1,022 points.
“He has a quick release, high to the net, and I think most importantly, he knows where the quiet zones are,” said Brian Bellows, who played 10 years for the North Stars after being drafted second overall in 1982. “I don’t care how fast the game is or even when it gets clogged up, the really great scorers find that open space, find those little pockets of room, and Kieffer has that intangible.
“Kieffer’s scoring ability and release is one of the best.”
Bellows, 18, is one of several in this draft with great blood lines. For instance, Matthew Tkachuk is the son of Keith Tkachuk; Alex Nylander is the son of Michael Nylander and brother of budding Toronto Maple Leafs star William Nylander; and Ty Ronning is the son of former Wild forward Cliff Ronning.
Kieffer learned from dad at a very young age. Brian Bellows scored at least 30 goals seven times for the North Stars, topping out with a team-record 55 in 1989-90. He helped lead the North Stars to the Stanley Cup Final in 1991 and captured the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
“Growing up my whole entire life, I looked up to my dad,” Kieffer said. “He was always there for me through hockey and through life. I get a lot of things from my mom [Tracy], too. She was the one that was waking up early to take me to practice and workouts. I know for a fact I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
Understandably, there’s a lot of pride — Kieffer is bookended by two hockey-playing sisters, Brianna and Lydia — that Bellows is so highly-regarded in a deep crop of potential first-rounders. Back when his dad was drafted in 1982, there was only one non-Canadian taken until the fourth pick of the second round. Minnesota’s Phil Housley was the exception, going to Buffalo sixth overall.
Today, it’s truly a global draft. In fact, there could be a record number of Americans going in the first round and two of the top three could be from Finland.
But Kieffer’s father has prepped him for this exciting time in his life. After all, Brian Bellows has been exactly in Kieffer Bellows’ shoes.
“What I’ve taught him is you want to mitigate the highs and lows of the roller coaster, whether it’s physically or emotionally,” Brian Bellows said. “Don’t get too down and don’t get too high and just realize that even when the draft comes, it’s going to be one day where you enjoy it and the next day you bus to university and get back to work.”
Kieffer heads to Boston University in the fall, where he’ll be coached by David Quinn and play alongside Wild prospect Jordan Greenway, whom he has gotten to know because his USA Hockey roommate was Greenway’s brother, JD.
“I’m just really excited for next year,” Bellows said. “We have a really good class incoming, and really good players that are already there with a great coaching staff. It’s just an exciting time.”