Bailey Is Earning His Spot

Throughout their rebuild, the Buffalo Sabres have acquired a number of prospects they hope will be key players for the club in the future. High draft picks such as Rasmus Ristolainen, Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel have already proven their worth. Hudson Fasching and Will Carrier, both of whom were obtained through trades, look as though they’ll be solid bottom-six forwards in the coming years. Mid-round draft selections have also been a source of talented young players for the Sabres.

The Buffalo Sabres selected Cal Petersen in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. (Cal Petersen / File Photo)

Nick Baptiste, who was selected in the third round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, has performed well at every level he’s played in recent years. The Sabres’ second-round pick in 2015, Brendan Guhle, is the team’s most promising defensive prospect. Cal Petersen, the team’s fifth-round pick in the 2013 draft, has yet to sign with the team but looks to have potential nevertheless.

While all of these players look promising, there is one low-profile player the Sabres selected recently that is already starting to make an impact. When the team selected Justin Bailey in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft, fans were excited. Despite their excitement, nobody really expected much within four years. Now, midway through the 2016-17 season, Bailey appears to be proving everybody wrong.

Instant Star

There’s nothing the people of Buffalo love more than successful people from Buffalo. That’s why fans were ecstatic when the Sabres selected Bailey in the 2013 NHL Draft.

Born in Williamsville, New York, Bailey grew up a Buffalo Sabres fan. This instantly made him a favorite amongst the Buffalo faithful, because he was one of them – a fan. Being the son of former Buffalo Bills linebacker Carlton Bailey helped the forward gain recognition in the Queen City.

(Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

While fans were excited that another Buffalonian would be joining the team, they were also excited to see what Bailey could bring to the ice. In the 2012-13 season, Bailey impressed scouts and fans by scoring 36 points in 57 games with the Kitchener Rangers. In his second season in the OHL, Bailey posted 43 points in 54 games, an improvement from his rookie season. During the 2014-15 OHL season, Bailey was traded from the Kitchener Rangers to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. However, the move didn’t stop the Buffalo-native from producing. In 57 games, Bailey finished with 69 points, a career high.

The 6-foot-3-inch forward then moved to the Rochester Americans, where he proved himself as a consistent scorer once again. In 75 games with the Amerks in the 2015-16 season, Bailey finished with 45 points. The winger also played eight games with the NHL club throughout the season but failed to register a point.

The 2016-17 AHL season has been another strong one for Bailey. In 39 games, the former second-round pick has scored 29 points, even earning a spot in the AHL All-Star Game.

Although Bailey has been able to produce at the Junior and AHL levels, he has had trouble proving himself as an NHL-caliber forward. Until recently.

Making the Most of the Opportunity

Due to a number of injuries throughout the year, Justin Bailey has seen a fair amount of time with the Sabres this season. The 21-year-old had been recalled from the Americans three times before his most recent call-up, which came in the wake of an injury to Will Carrier.

Unlike his previous stints with the Sabres, Bailey has shown he can be an NHL player this time. The power forward has been a breath of fresh air on an otherwise stale Sabres lineup. The rookie’s consistent play resulted in a promotion to the team’s top line. For the past couple of games, Bailey has skated with Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo, two of the more talented players in the organization.

Despite consistently solid performances, the production still isn’t there for Bailey. The former OHL standout has three points in 17 NHL games this season. While the points aren’t there, the performances are. Bailey is gaining confidence game after game, a trait that will bring the points.

What is unique about the youngster’s game is his speed. Bailey’s top-end speed is something most 6-foot-3-inch players don’t have, making the prospect difficult to defend. A perfect example of this was during Thursday night’s contest against the Colorado Avalanche. During the first period, Bailey almost single-handedly created a scoring opportunity by using his speed in the offensive zone. After the Sabres lost the puck, the rookie recovered it in the neutral zone before drawing a tripping penalty, sending the Sabres to the power play.

Head coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged Bailey’s speed:

“I like the speed he adds and is effective with, both offensively and defensively,” Bylsma said. “He puts pressure on teams with his speed when he’s playing defensively.”

Bailey won’t be having a 30-point rookie season, but nobody was expecting him to. In fact, nobody was really expecting anything from him this season. This is why Bailey’s recent play is such a pleasant surprise. The large winger’s speed makes him a rare player, a player the Sabres didn’t have until now. Bailey was having a great year in Rochester, but he’s making it difficult for the Sabres to send him back there.