Do you know who had a good week? Josh Bailey had a good week.
Despite playing in just two pre-season games due to an undisclosed injury, the Islanders’ 2008 first round pick (ninth overall) made New York’s opening night roster as a just-turned 19-year-old.
Now, on the surface, this may strike you as strange – how can a teenager, even a gifted one, prove himself in just 120 minutes of hockey, when the competition may not have even been NHL-quality? A fair question.
The Islanders are trying to build something. It’s going to take a couple seasons, but you have to start somewhere. Bringing up Jack Hillen, an offensive defenseman and recent graduate of Colorado College hockey who played two games in the NHL last year, is one block.
Another block – and an exciting one if you’re an Isles fan – is the potentially potent duo of Bailey and right winger Kyle Okposo. The two meshed well together at New York’s rookie camp and clearly the logic on Long Island right now is, “we’ve got nothing to lose, why not see how far these kids can go?”
Veterans such as Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie and Doug Weight can keep the kids grounded and eat up enough first-line time so as to not put too much pressure on the pair.
Winning games? It’ll happen, though probably not at a prodigious pace. But at least with this no-pressure structure, Bailey and Okposo can make the mistakes all rookies do and not worry about getting torched by critics.
And, much like fellow 2008 first-rounder Luke Schenn of Toronto, if things do go pear-shaped for Bailey early, the Isles can send him back to the Ontario League’s Windsor Spitfires after nine games and not lose a year off his entry-level deal. Ironically, in that scenario Schenn and Bailey could meet in the Memorial Cup, as both Bailey’s Spits and Schenn’s Kelowna Rockets are stacked this year. Either way, they would certainly be teammates on Canada’s world junior team.
An incredible seven of the first nine picks in this past summer’s draft – plus Viktor Tikhonov (28th overall to Phoenix) and, likely, Luca Sbisa (19th to Philly) – will be on opening night rosters this year, with Colin Wilson of Nashville being the only sure absentee (everyone knew from the start he would be returning to Boston University). Nikita Filatov was sent to AHL Syracuse Wednesday.
Some, such as Steven Stamkos in Tampa or Drew Doughty in Los Angeles, are not going back to junior. For others, the early season results will determine whether it’s time to go apartment hunting or not.
In Bailey’s case, it’s win-win. The Isles have a highly skilled, two-way player on their hands, not to mention one who has inspired ‘future captain’ accolades. If he and Okposo click against major league competition, it’s a development schedule bonus. If not, another year on a top-rated junior team won’t kill him.
For those first nine games at least, the Isles are playing with house money.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect-watch feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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