Justin Bailey deserves to be in the lineup for now. The former second-round pick was one of the Vancouver Canucks’ few bright spots against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, and his hard work has been impressive. He can make a difference on a nightly basis and has earned the chance to be part of the NHL roster.
Bailey Impressed in the AHL
Bailey started the season with the Abbotsford Canucks and picked up where he left off in 2019-20 as one of the American Hockey League’s most dangerous players. He had six points in his first five games and scored the first-ever home goal during Abbotsford’s home opener. He was named the game’s second star after also assisting on the overtime winner.
Bailey stood out early on as he has worked on developing his overall game. He has been a key part of Abbotsford’s special teams and has found chemistry with Nic Petan and Phillip Di Giuseppe. Mostly known for his speed, Bailey doesn’t give up on plays and consistently applies pressure on the forecheck. His attention to detail and his ongoing development earned him a call-up from the Canucks for their home-opener versus the Wild.
Bailey’s Strong First NHL Game of 2021-22
In Tuesday’s game, Bailey was strong on the forecheck, drew a penalty, and blocked three shots despite only playing 10:06. Canucks head coach Travis Green also used him on the penalty kill alongside J.T. Miller. More importantly, he didn’t cause any crucial turnovers and played with energy throughout. He passed the eye test, but do the analytics support it?
Bailey started the game on the fourth line with Juho Lammikko and Alex Chiasson. Unfortunately, this line was mostly hemmed in their own zone, contributing to his 38.89% Corsi rating. However, he also helped generate some offence when put with more offensive players. In 2:25 of five-on-five ice time with Bo Horvat, Bailey registered a 50% Corsi, managed two shots and created one high-danger scoring chance. Essentially, his stats against the Wild indicate he can produce, but only if he is not responsible for most of the offence on a line at full strength.
The most impressive part of Bailey’s game, however, was the penalty kill. Coming into the game, he had never played more than 2:04 on the penalty kill in a game; that game was also vs. the Canucks in October 2017. In his season debut, he was the second most used forward on the penalty kill with 2:15 of ice time behind J.T. Miller. In that time, he blocked a shot and limited the Wild to one shot on goal that didn’t even register as a scoring chance since it was a wrist shot from the blue line.
The duo worked very well together, not just limiting shots but pressuring the opposing power play. With Vancouver’s usual penalty-killers like Justin Dowling, Tyler Motte, and Jason Dickinson recovering from injuries, this is Bailey’s chance to shine. He could land a permanent spot on the team with more performances like he had against the Wild.
Who Should Bailey Play With?
The Canucks are still tinkering with their lines, but Bailey needs to play with more offensive players. He can defend well, but as mentioned, he hasn’t developed the ability to be the play-driver on a line. Based on that, his perfect linemate would be Nils Höglander. Both play a hard forechecking game that can drive the opposition crazy. They could partner them up with Miller as their center to create a third line that could match up against anyone. We already know Miller and Bailey work well together, so why not try these three out at five-on-five?
Regardless of his place in the lineup, the team needs to keep him away from Chiasson. In 3:55 of ice time together, Bailey had a 16.67% Corsi rating while being outshot six to two. Green needs to give him a chance to succeed, and playing him on the fourth line could stunt his development moving forward.
Bailey Raises the Bar
Although Bailey has played five games with the Canucks over the last three seasons, this was his most complete game. He’s shown that when put in a position to succeed, he can deliver. From the penalty kill to the forecheck, there were no noticeable flaws in his game. If he continues to offer performances like Tuesday night, he could be an NHL regular come season’s end.
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