Video gaming reference enthusiasts should be pleased as punch for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft thanks to the subject of today's prospect profile. Way before Justin Bailey, the hockey player, was born, older gamers know this name all too well from the 8-bit NES classic Metroid. In the game's North American release in 1987, the game had a password system to continue your last session. Word came out that there were passwords that would provide upgrades and other changes; the most iconic was "JUSTIN BAILEY." It put you at the start of Norfair, gave you a path to the final area, gave you almost all of the game's power ups except the ice beam (required for the final area) and an energy tank, and replaced the power suit that the main character wore with a purple leotard. The latter is iconic as it's how many players learned that Samus Aran was actually a woman, instead of learning this by beating the game in less than three hours (difficult, but possible). Now that you've read this bit of trivia, you may understand why you may see Bailey jerseys at cons or a myriad of gaming references online for when the player is doing something at the pro level.
Justin Bailey, the player, could become much more than just a reference. The big forward from Williamson, New York just completed his first season in the Ontario Hockey League and he'll turn 18 the day after the draft. He's done well enough to be invited to 2013 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp. (Aside: Notice that a certain Matteau will be there too.) Most projections have him going in the second round and since the New Jersey Devils could use more forwards, he's certainly worth looking at. Let's learn more about the player and develop an opinion about whether the Devils should go after him if he's available.
Who is Justin Bailey?
Based on his player page at the OHL's website, Justin Bailey is a 6'3", 183 pound left winger who plays for the Kitchener Rangers. He was born on July 1, 1995, so he was 17 throughout his draft-eligible year. His profile at Elite Prospects reveals he's a product of the Atlantic Youth Hockey League. It also notes that his dad was Carlton Bailey, who was linebacker for Buffalo, the Giants, and Carolina over a ten-year season. So Justin is another prospect with pro sports in his background and another reason to feel old when reading or writing up prospect profiles.
The 2012-13 season was his first in the OHL. Playing for Kitchener wasn't his original plan - and the club certainly didn't think so since they drafted him in the seventh round. According to this September 2012 article by Ryan Kennedy at The Hockey News, Bailey was on track to go play for Michigan State after a youth career filled with impressive guidance. However, he changed his mind after a visit and decided to go into the major junior league. The jump to the OHL certainly was a step up in terms of competition. Bailey finished sixth on his team and twelfth among all rookies in scoring with 17 goals and 19 assists in 57 games. That's not too bad for a first season in bigger league. It's worth noting that he missed about three weeks due to a concussion, as noted in this Neate Sager post about Bailey at Buzzing the Net. I would think that had to have undercut his rookie season. He has since recovered from that and should be in a good position to move onward and upward in his sophomore season with Kitchener.
What Experts Have Said About Justin Bailey
It's clear that Bailey's got a big frame, but what else does he have? The various scouts and others who have watched him perform at Kitchener have plenty to say about his skillset and his potential. The short description in his profile at Future Considerations is a good place to start as any:
Bailey owns one of the best shots in the entire draft class, and has incredible athleticism and skating ability; looks like a linebacker on ice but has great hands. Injuries slowed him some this year and doesn't play as big as people want him to be, but still competes and puts forth an honest effort each shift.
I could just leave it at that. He's big. He doesn't necessarily play big but he at least tries. He's got hands and a shot but the numbers suggest he could do more. The general thought about what kind of a prospect goes a little deeper.
Hockey Prospectus writer and prospect maven Corey Pronman ranked Bailey #51 in his top 100 prospects. Here's his take, which could be used to justify him as a higher selection - or a lower one:
Bailey is a high-upside forward with a multitude of tools, but he also carries some risk. He is a good skater, and he can generate a ton of speed, but he has a bit of an awkward stride, as he tends to not extend well through every step. He is a skilled player who can make above-average plays with the puck in stickhandling or passing, and he can flash flashes high-end ability with the puck. His shot is great, as it is both heavy and accurate. He has a decent frame, and is able to display a solid physical game in terms of his puck protection. He works hard on the ice, and he projects as a quality physical player, though he still has some bulking up to do. He is very raw, as injuries have hindered his ability to get a high number of repetitions. Whoever drafts Bailey inherits the risk of a player that has a fairly equal chance of being a top-six player or a bust.
That last sentence wraps up what is a litmus test regarding Bailey as a prospect. To be fair, every prospect has a possibility of not turning out as expected for one reason or another. But let's run through this summary. He's big but could be stronger. Pronman confirms his shot being excellent and praises his ability with the puck. I find it telling he didn't mention his play away from the puck, which leads me to think it's something to work on. Likewise, would that awkward stride at the OHL level carry over to the next level? Could it hinder him? In a way, this explains why Bailey is projected a second round selection. There's enough of a reason to be interested in him but not enough to take him within the first thirty picks. Where he goes in that round will be determined on how much the franchise in question believes he will make it as opposed to crash out.
Since Bailey plied his trade with Kitchener this season, Brock Otten of OHL Prospects is quite familiar with the player. The OHL has plenty of tantalizing prospects for this year's draft class, which meant Bailey finished outside of Otten's top ten prospects from the league. He did finish twelfth and Otten's reasoning is well worth your time. Here's what he had to say:
Bailey is a very raw prospect. This was his first OHL season and he went through some growing pains. But...he's got a very high ceiling, if the team that drafts him is willing to be patient. Bailey has size at 6'3, but is currently very lanky. He can be pushed off the puck too easily right now and needs to add strength to be a more effective player in traffic. But at his size, he's a terrific skater. He changes direction very well and has an extra gear. He's a bit of an awkward skater though, sort of wide strides similar to Wayne Simmonds when he played in the OHL. Offensively, his biggest weapon is his shot. He's got massive goal scoring potential at the next level. His snap and wrist shot are fantastic; both hard and accurate. But, I think there has to be some concern that he scored only 2 goals in his final 21 games (including playoffs). He looked gassed towards the end of the year, further proof that conditioning is an area of concern. The rest of his game is also a work in progress. For his size, he could stand to play more physical and engage in traffic more consistently. His two-way game is evolving and has potential because of his size and skating abilities. When he becomes the sum of his parts, Bailey could be a very good player and that's what has drawn the interest of scouts.
Similar to Pronman's final sentence in his summary, Otten cuts right to the matter at the end of his summation of Bailey. He's received plenty of interest because of his size and shot, but he hasn't put everything together yet. Otten says "When," which implies that it'll happen - and it very well could at the OHL level. Whether it can be translated to the next level remains to be seen. Otten did praise his shot and his skating, but did note like Pronman did that his stride can be awkward. The good news for Bailey, from Otten's point of view, is that it was similar to Wayne Simmonds' stride. Since Simmonds is a good NHL player, it's not a dealbreaker.
With respect to the lack of scoring late in the season, it's a good question to raise. I'd love to know his shooting rates to see whether he just got cold or whether he didn't shoot as much. The former is more or less bad luck, the latter would be concerning, but it's moot since the OHL doesn't publicly track complex stats like shots on net. I also appreciate the point about his lack of conditioning. I'd chalk it up to it being his first season in the OHL. Not only did Bailey play 67 games, but he did it in a league where the players are bigger, more talented, and can be more physical. It can wear on someone new. Provided Bailey prepares properly for his sophomore season, it may not be an issue. We will have to wait and see - something his drafted club may have to do with respect to "putting it all together."
For what it's worth, Otten put together a media-based top ten OHL prospects back in February as a midseason report. Bailey did crack the top ten list with plenty of praise for his effort, shot, and skating. If that's what others have stated, in conjunction with FC, Pronman, and Otten, then it seems likely to me that these opinions are all valid.
A Little Video
So you've read plenty about Bailey's 2012-13 season with Kitchener. Let's see some highlights. Youtube user bigwhite06 put together this excellent highlight video of Bailey scoring goals and making plays for the Rangers. Bailey is the big man wearing #95 throughout the video.
While some of the goals were "right place, right time" goals, you can see his flashes of speed and strength while putting the puck where he wants it.
About a year or so ago, the NHL had a video feature about the Pat LaFontaine-coached Long Island Royals. Bailey was a part of that team and an episode focused on him. It goes into how he got into the game, his love of the Sabres, and his time as a Royal.
An Opinion of Sorts
Given that I support the New Jersey Devils and they need forwards in the system, there's plenty to like about Bailey. The opinions of others who have followed him praise his shooting skills among others and the video does justify that. I'm not so put off by any awkward stride given that the rest of his skating is good. I also believe his rookie season would have went along better without the concussion at the beginning and possibly a cold streak through the end of his run. Throw in the fact that he's been a hard worker from his youth days until now plus that he'll be 18 throughout 2013-14, and it can be tempting to think he would be worth a selection at #39. Surely, he can fill that big frame of his. Surely, the other parts of his game will get better. Surely, he'll improve.
That's a lot of surely's. Perhaps that in of itself is a red flag for a selection 39th overall. I'm concerned by the assertions made by Pronman and Otten in that he's got a lot of work to do. The Devils can, have, and will be patient with a prospect. It's just that could he be worth the wait when other available prospects may be closer along in their development? If he is and works out in all aspects (e.g. he gets stronger, he acclimates his offense better in the O, his defense improves to be noteworthy, etc.), he would make a fine NHL player. But the possibility that he doesn't put it together brings to mind past Devils draft picks of big forwards that didn't turn out (take your pick from this past decade). In other years, I feel that Bailey would be a good selection, but this is a fairly deep draft class and perhaps some other forward with a good set of offensive tools that doesn't carry high risk/high reward would be available. If the Devils had a lower second round pick or a second pick in that round, then I would be more than fine with Justin Bailey being picked. If he ends up as the 39th overall pick, then the Devils would have be convinced (or convince themselves) that he could become that big, strong scoring forward that teams and fans tend to want. And if he is, then it's a good pick. I'm just concerned about the "rawness"/risk of it all.
Now that you've read what's out there about Justin Bailey and seen a little video, what do you think of him as a prospect? Do you think he'll be able to fulfill his potential? If so, do you think the Devils should draft him if he's available? If not, why not? Will he be seen more as a reference? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Justin Bailey in the comments. Thank you for reading.