The Buffalo Sabres have their centers for the future in Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and Sam Reinhart, but the organization is hoping to develop talent on the wings to support that trio. One of those wingers looking to complement the likes of an Eichel or a Reinhart is right wing Justin Bailey – one of three second round picks for the Sabres at the 2013 NHL Draft.
The 6’3”, 200-pound forward from Williamsville, NY grew up just 20 minutes outside of Buffalo and turned pro this fall with the Sabres’ AHL affiliate in Rochester. Playing on the Rochester Americans’ top line, Bailey has recorded six points (2G-4A) in 16 games and is currently adjusting to the changes at the pro level.
“It’s obviously take care of your bumps and bruises the first couple of games,” Bailey said of making the jump to the AHL this season. “It’s definitely a big adjustment. I think I had a pretty good time in preseason – I felt good. First couple games were tough, but around game five or six I started to play more like myself.”
After a final season of junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) split between Kitchener and Sault Ste. Marie that saw Bailey produce 34 goals in 57 games, the Sabres were anxious to see how Bailey would stack up against bigger, more physical competition in the pro ranks.
It is only seven weeks into the 2015-16 season, but it’s safe to say Bailey needs more seasoning before he is ready to tackle the NHL. Playing a more well-rounded game and learning the pro style doesn’t occur overnight, so it is not all that surprising or a hit against Bailey’s potential.
“It’s a new look for me,” Bailey said, explaining, “You look at the goals that are scored in the NHL – more than half are second and third opportunities right in front of the net. You definitely score different goals here than you do in junior, so I’m just trying to find a way to get those kinds of goals.”
The biggest knock against Bailey’s game is that he doesn’t particularly use his size to his advantage on a consistent basis – something that is paramount for a player of his stature. He is certainly well aware of this critique.
“I think that’s something that has been communicated down to me from the top of the organization, that I need to be a little bit more physical and a little harder to play against,” Bailey noted. “ I don’t think it’s going out there and fighting guys but it’s definitely going out there and finishing my checks and using my physical presence to my advantage. It’s something I try to bring every night.”
Still, Bailey is getting top-line minutes in the AHL this season and will look to continue to develop his game and get ready for whatever is thrown his way, be it the AHL or NHL, if and when that opportunity arrives. As for what he is looking to work on, it is nothing out of the ordinary.
“I think there’s a couple things, the little things,” Bailey mentioned. “You have to be attentive to details, getting pucks out and getting pucks deep, limiting your turnovers. Just the little things that will help me get to the NHL quicker.”
If Bailey can become the power forward the Sabres are hoping and molding him into, he should find himself in the NHL down the road with a high-end talent in the middle feeding him the puck – something he obviously looks forward to.
“[The Sabres have] done a great job of bringing some really talented guys the past two or three years,” Bailey said. “They are definitely really deep at center, so if and when I make that jump it will be a lot easier because they absolutely have talent down the middle.”
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