Will 2012-13 Be Bailey's Breakout on Wing?
In 2008, the Islanders were slotted to pick fifth in the NHL Entry Draft. GM Garth Snow and the Isles' drafting team, however, had other ideas. They traded down twice to get a player named Joshua Bailey, who had been lighting things up in the Ontario Hockey League and looked to be a gem.
Four years later, Bailey is 22 years old and still looking for a real breakout in the NHL. The Islanders have been with him every step of the way, though, and in 2012-13, they're doing something in hopes of prolonging his success -- moving him to wing permanently.
As early as 2010, Bailey's apparently said that he's played some of his best hockey at wing; it's obvious that he belongs there. In 2011-12, he finished the season there and scored 18 of his 32 points in the last 20 games. Do the math, and you'll see his points per game jumped from .23 in the first 60 games to .9 in the last 20 (he missed two games with back spasms). He had a lot more jump and seemed to find all the right spots to be in on the ice at wing. Even his plus-minus improved (-10, from -13 in 2010-11), albeit marginally.
Bailey's finish is a good sign. Since his lackluster rookie season, there had been talk that perhaps he'd been rushed into the league, especially considering he'd been relatively productive in the AHL (a 17-point tear in 11 games as a conditioning stint in 2010-11). He's been noted for his two-way instincts, but he said playing center put more of a strain on him physically; playing wing, he feels as though he "has a lot more left in the tank."
If that's what it takes for him to produce, so be it. He's a good two-way player, but if moving him to wing really helps him see the offensive side of the puck better, then the Isles will have done the right thing by moving him permanently. It's no secret that secondary scoring is lacking, and if John Tavares and Matt Moulson have to shoulder the offense for yet another season, the Isles are going nowhere. Bailey playing wing will also give Casey Cizikas the opportunity to break onto the roster, as there will be a center spot open, so the question of who will fill the third-line center spot isn't really a question unless he fails to impress in training camp.
Josh Bailey has the tools necessary to be a top-six forward in the NHL. He's got defensive upside, great hands and the maturity to match, and he's already been a top player in one category (he was fourth in the league in short-handed goals with three). This season is a must for him to prove what he can do.