The safe bet here at third line right wing would be the Buffalo Sabres with 36 yr. old Brian Gionta who served as the team's captain last season and was instrumental in helping center Johan Larsson and winger Marcus Foligno gain traction. But the youth movement is on in Buffalo and there's room for another youngin to start making his mark with the big club.
Enter Justin Bailey.
Bailey is a burgeoning 6'4" 206 lb. powerfoward who has been methodically making his way to the NHL ever since he was drafted by the Sabres with the 52nd pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. That pick, along with a fifth rounder that netted Buffalo defenseman Anthony Florentino, was acquired when the Sabres sent d-man Jordan Leopold to the St. Louis Blues at the 2013 trade deadline.
Back in June we evaluated the top three Sabres prospects at each position and Bailey was on top. Here's what we wrote:
"Level-by-level Bailey has grasped the nuances of the position as well as the game and has made impressive strides. In junior he went from 36 points (17+19) in 57 games his draft year to 43 points (25+18) in 54 games the following year to 69 points (34+35) in 57 games for Kitchener and Sault Ste. Marie his last year of junior. Bailey started slow in his first professional season for the Rochester Americans last year but finished with 15 goals and 18 assists in his last 30 games."
What should get Sabres fans excited about the prospect of Bailey manning the right side in a top-nine role is that not only does he have the size, but he has speed something long-time Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens pointed at when I talked to him last spring. "I think [Justin Bailey] fits the mold of the up-and-coming player more than any other player I saw [in Rochester]," longtime Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens told me in April, "and that mold is speed. I think that's where the game is."
Sure enough, there was plenty of speed on display in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks going at it.
Bailey's bedrock of size and speed has given him a presence at every level he's played thus far and those traits were on display last season during an eight-game stint with the Sabres. Although he didn't hit the scoresheet during those games, he still left an impression as he did everything but score. It was a performance that put him right on the cusp of playing in the NHL.
Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com/sabres.com has Bailey ranked as his No. 2 overall Sabres prospect behind only defenseman Brendan Guhle. In his April rankings Baker wrote of Bailey and how he fits into GM Tim Murray's team building around athletes, "performance and pedigree may very well make him the poster child for what's being branded as a new Murray-minded movement."
Baker notes Bailey's spikes in production over the last two seasons, and simply states that "it's all about patience and reps from here as Bailey builds off an impressive second half of his first AHL campaign."
Bailey could very well end up in Rochester again to start this season and in no way would that be a bad thing. If he continues to progress as he has thus far by mid-season he should be getting a long look from Buffalo. Yet somehow I get the impression that Bailey is looking at this training camp, which begins next week, as a supreme opportunity to stick with the Sabres. And I get the feeling he'll take advantage of it.
The charge of the youngins, Wave-2, is about to commence with Bailey and possibly Guhle at the fore. Whether it takes place this year or next is about the only thing to be determined.
Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Matt Moulson / C, Zemgus Girgensons / RW, Justin Bailey
D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian/ D, Jake McCabe
G, Robin Lehner