Saturday's Alumni Game at TCF Bank Stadium was a chance to re-live the extensive history of Minnesota Hockey, and fans in attendance were rewarded with seeing many big names from the past get on the scoreboard once more.
One of these nostalgic moments happened when North Stars alum Brian Bellows scored in the first period. Bellows, who scored 342 goals in 10 years in Minnesota, took a Mike Modano rebound and tapped it past Chicago goalie Murray Bannerman.
For most players, a moment like that would be a victory lap for their legacy, but there exists the chance that the Bellows name could live on in Minnesota. His son Kieffer will be draft-eligible this summer after dominating for the US National Development Program. The NHL Draft is hard to predict on the day it occurs, much less four months prior, but early projections have Kieffer going right around the middle of the first round- right around where the Wild might pick.
"I'm sure he would love it. It would be great." says Brian on the possibility Kieffer could be drafted by Minnesota. "But you can't wish for something like that. You just gotta hope he plays as well as he's doing the rest of the year, and whoever drafts him really wants him."
Finding someone who wants Kieffer shouldn't be a problem. In fact, he's the exact sort of forward that the Wild's scouting staff have been targeting. In the past two drafts, the Wild picked Alex Tuch, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Jordan Greenway- all three of them big forwards who boast heavy shots. But even among that group, Kieffer's all-around skills impress.
"He’s very fast, he has some sandpaper to his game, so he’ll go into the corners," says NHL.com prospect writer Mike Morreale. "He’s a good playmaker, but man, he also has that nice scoring touch like his dad had. It’s gonna be fun to watch him mature and grow once he’s drafted."
When asked about whether he sees his game in his son, Brian agrees- with a couple of caveats. "He can shoot the puck a hell of a lot harder than me, and he can pick corners a hell of a lot better. But the flip-side is, I tell people [that ask] 'Is Kieffer better than you?' all the top players are. They've just advanced so much."
While Kieffer, an Edina native, following in his father's footsteps would be a great story for him and the fans in the State of Hockey, this could also lead to heightened expectations for the 17-year-old. Most fanbases don't expect their first-round pick to go on and score the 485 goals and 1,000+ points in the NHL like Brian did. Those could be some big shoes to fill.
But the Bellows family is no stranger to great expectations. In Brian's draft year, he drew comparisons to Wayne Gretzky, which would be unfair to even a 17-year-old clone of Wayne Gretzky. And this wasn't just fans. Upon trading for a high pick in hopes of landing Brian, Minnesota GM Lou Nanne flat-out said, "We're looking forward to him like we did to Gretzky." But despite the hype, Brian was able to set it aside and carve out a great NHL career.
But when asked about whether his legacy could put that kind of pressure on his son, Brian instead pointed to other challenges Kieffer faces now that Brian didn't face in 1982. "I could have a bad weekend on the road in Kitchener, and no one would know except my coach and the 19 players. Now with social media and the games on television, everyone's watching all the time."
His advice to Kieffer in handling all that? "I tell him to be a great pro, you can't get too high, you can't get too low. You really have to keep a tight groove [mentally]."
Even if Kieffer lands on one of the other 29 teams in the NHL, Wild fans who follow college hockey will still get to follow him on his way to the NHL. He'll be attending Boston University next year along with Wild prospect Jordan Greenway.