Josh Bailey, Meet Michael Grabner
You are 18-years-old. You have just completed the best hockey season of your entire life – racing up draft boards from a low-mid round pick into a projected mid first round pick. It is an incredibly exciting night, as you sit there with your family waiting and hoping to hear your name called.
You watch as commissioner Gary Bettman announces the Islanders trading down 2 picks. Then trading down 2 more picks. The Islanders staff takes the stage ready to announce their ninth overall pick, and you are still not thinking too much of it.
Then you hear it.
“The New York Islanders select Josh Bailey.”
Your heart leaps as you try to wrap your head around being drafted by an NHL team. You hug your family and rejoice in one of your greatest personal successes to date.
Then you hear it.
Booing. From the fans of the team that just drafted you. Your heart drops as you walk towards the stage, feeling awkwardly excited and disappointed at the same time. What had you done to these fans? Did they even know you?
You work harder than you have ever before, reinvigorated and wanting to prove to the fans that you were worth the top ten draft pick spent on you. With each rep in the weight room, each mile on the treadmill, and each drill on the ice, you bring your ‘A’ game. You impress the coaching staff of a rebuilding team in rookie camp, and again in training camp. Then the real work begins as you learn you will be breaking camp with the team. A rookie season fighting through some injuries, adjustments, and learning, becomes an overall individual success.
The offseason happens, and a new shiny 18-year-old phenom by the name of John Tavares is drafted. Expectations for everyone rise. A difficult season follows, and frustration starts to set in. Another draft, another shiny new piece of the rebuild is selected named Nino Neiderreiter, and another offseason of furious work and training follow.
The season starts, and you are off to the races – guns blazing out of the gate, with several points in just the first few games. People see the offensive and playmaking potential you possess. You finally relax. Which is a lesson every hockey player needs to learn in their young career – the pedal can never come off the metal.
A dry spell turns into a slump, a slump turns into more struggling, until finally the struggling turns into an AHL assignment. You are shocked. But you vow to recommit yourself to focusing as hard as you did in the beginning of the season in every single game. And you start to dominate the AHL to force the Islanders to recall you, which they do.
The season ends, though the domination from the AHL did not carry over to the big leagues. And as usual, another offseason of intense workouts and commitment to getting better followed. When October 2011 rolled around, you were going to be ready.
And you have been in tremendous shape, but somewhat snakebit it seems, in terms of turning the hard work from the offseason into having an impact on the scoreboard. The season is 14 games old, and you have just 1 goal and 1 assist.
What should you do? Panic? Quit? Resign yourself to being a bottom six forward?
The answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT.
Walk across the locker room. Josh Bailey, meet Michael Grabner.