On a roster already swollen with formidable talent, Justin Bailey is saddled with the task of making the best possible impression from the Kitchener Rangers' third line before June, 2013. Fortunately, the 17-year-old forward has managed to hold his own thus far -- despite a limited amount of OHL experience. Listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds (and growing), Bailey has the skills, smarts, skating ability, and physical attributes to attract the right brand of attention from the NHL scouting domain. So much so, the Erie County native is projected to be a first-round pick at the 2013 NHL draft.
"Everybody describes him as raw or green, because he's coming out of midget hockey," Rangers GM/Head Coach Steve Spott said following last Friday's 5-0 win over the Sarnia Sting. "But the package he has (size, skill, speed, hockey sense) is not only intriguing to me, but obviously to the NHL scouts. I believe he has the chance to be a top-six forward in the NHL."
"For me, he has to be a first-round pick," Spott added, comparing the power-forward to former OHLer Wayne Simmonds (Philadelphia Flyers). "This young man, when he fills out and he's 23 or 24 years of age, could be a scary athlete."
However, Bailey still has plenty of work to do before joining the big boys in the pro hockey realm.
"I think playing a team game is his biggest challenge," the head coach suggested, acknowledging the need for Bailey to share the puck more often with his linemates and pay more mind to the defensive side of play. "He was able to do things in minor hockey by himself -- go end to end, carry the puck, and make plays by himself -- but this level is just too good for that ... Before he could always give up a goal and score two himself. He can't do that here (in the OHL)."
So far, the towering teen appears to be in tune with his bench boss. And he's working hard to develop his game as necessary. Such measures include watching a lot of tape and absorbing as much as possible from his more experienced teammates.
"Focus on my play in the defensive zone," Bailey answered, when asked what he wanted to work on this season. "There's a lot I still need to learn ... I'm starting to learn from the older guys -- what you can get away with and what you can't. I think it's just a learning curve for me.
With regular linemates Brent Pedersen and Josh Sterk -- pegged to be drafted in later rounds this coming June -- Bailey already appears to be rounding out his overall game, week by week. So much so, the imposing forward (he aspires to be a player like Eric or Jordan Staal) was rewarded with his first taste of penalty-killing action this past weekend. Such opportunities will only help in bolstering his on-ice resume.
As for the less-tangible factors, Bailey seems to carry a genuine and concrete sense of level-headed maturity about himself. Frankly, the kid's head seems to be screwed on super-tight. And he's gotten plenty of pro examples to draw from considering the former NHL players he was surrounded with, growing up in Buffalo, N.Y.
"Matt Barnaby, Mike (Michael Peca) and Rob Ray -- those guys were all pretty hard-working," said Bailey said, who also counts his dad (former Buffalo Bills linebacker Carlton Bailey) among his mentors. "They didn't have anything handed to them ... and they were good with handling adversity. Those kinds of guys have helped me along the way."
You may get the sense the pom-poms are out in full force here, but Bailey is an easy fella for whom to root. He's big, strong and quick. He has the potential to becoming a "scary athlete." He's skilled at moving and shooting the puck. He's blessed with above-average on-ice intuition and hockey sense. He's willing to learn, adapt and work his tail off. What's not to like?
The Rangers' regular roster features eight players already spoken for in the NHL -- including former first-round picks F Matt Puempel (Ottawa Senators, 2011), F Radek Faksa (Dallas Stars, 2012), D Ryan Murphy (Carolina Hurricanes, 2011) -- and yet No. 95 still catches your attention when he's on the ice. Whether he's drafted in the first round or not (more likely 'yea' than 'nay'), Justin Bailey should be the subject of consideration and discussion as a solid NHL asset for years to come.
Class of 2013
Suspended 10 games by the league, forward Sean Monahan may not see action with the Ottawa 67's again until well into January. The current top draft prospect in the OHL (NHL Central Scouting), Monahan (36 points in 24 games) was handed the sentence for a recent check to the head of Plymouth Whalers defenseman Colin MacDonald. Monahan insists the hit was unintentional.
Regardless, ineligible to play for the 67's until Dec. 12, Monahan will likely be engaged with Team Canada for world junior championship prep and play before and through the holiday season. Dismal news for an Ottawa squad that sits ninth -- comfortably -- in the Eastern Conference.
• Breaking out of a four-game scoring slump, Ryan Kujawinski notched a couple of helpers in the Kingston Frontenacs' recent 4-3 victory over the Windsor Spitfires. After blossoming on the top line as a new member of the Frontenacs in the second half of last season (via trade with the Sting), the sizable center is enjoying only a so-so campaign in 2012-13. However, Kujawinski still projects as a second- or third-round draft pick.
• Inching up the draft rankings, defenseman Jordan Subban of the Belleville Bulls is moving into solid contention for second-round consideration come June. Not too shabby, considering brother P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens) went in the second round (43th overall) of the 2007 draft. The 17-year-old blueliner is only one point shy of his 2011-12 total of 20.
• While subbing in for a suspended Scott Laughton (Philadelphia Flyers, 1st round, 2012) on the Oshawa Generals' second line, Cole Cassels more than held his own -- adding seven points to his personal total through 10 games. However, Generals Color Commentator Shane Hollinshead suggests Cassels is more suited to his regular slot on the third line.
"He did a great job filling in for Laughton, but playing the role of a third-line checking center is definitely (Cassels') strength," Hollinshead said, noting the banged-up 17-year-old missed a couple of games after Laughton's suspension. "Along with his penalty-killing and faceoff abilities, his shot-blocking -- an underrated skill in my mind -- is also top-notch. Especially since he often turns those blocked shots into either a scoring opportunity going to other way, or the occasion to draw a penalty from a flat-footed defenseman."
Estimated to go in the second round, Cassels is the Generals' top prospect in the 2013 draft class.
Class of 2014 (and beyond)
Youngster Nikolay Goldobin is stirring up a fair bit of fuss with the Sarnia Sting these days. Graced with great hands and superior skating, Goldobin is capable of finding that extra gear when necessary. Plus his intuition and sense of anticipation is excellent -- the barely 17-year-old frequently seems to be in the right place at the right time.
According to a source close to the Sting, it took Goldobin about a month to adjust to hockey in North American. At last check, it's clear he's adapting just fine (23 points in his past 21 games). Goldobin is eligible for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Notable NHL prospects
Much has been anticipated from forward Tobias Rieder (Edmonton Oilers, 4th round, 2011) through 2012-13, and so far, his numbers with the Rangers have been disappointing. Nine goals and 14 assists (minus-2) through 26 games is hardly worth bragging about after relishing a 42-goal, 43-assist campaign (plus-22) the season previous.
However, Rieder can likely look forward to an extra-special holiday gift from his head coach in the next few weeks -- one that might put the second-line winger back on familiar pace.
"That's partly my fault," admitted Spott in regards to Rieder's lackluster production to date. "Last year he played with a premiere centerman in our league. He simply isn't getting the puck enough (this season). He's a scorer -- a shooter -- and those players have to get the puck in certain areas of the game. I need to find him a guy to get him that puck (before the trade deadline) ... so that's my challenge moving forward."
The OHL deadline is Jan. 10, 2013.
• The hottest goalie in the league at present is Jordan Binnington (St. Louis Blues, 3rd round, 2011) of the Owen Sound Attack. Before allowing three goals against the ever-dangerous London Knights, Binnington posted three -- three! -- straight shutouts. Sporting a 14-4-1 record, 2.11 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, the lanky netminder is enjoying a successful season altogether.
• Named the latest CHL player of the Week, winger Scott Kosmachuk (Winnipeg Jets, 3rd round, 2012) racked up six goals and two assists in three straight wins for the Guelph Storm this past weekend. Kosmachuk has 18 goals and 14 assists (plus-six) this season for Guelph.
• Don't count Frank Corrado (Vancouver Canucks, 5th round, 2011) of the Sudbury Wolves out as a potential defenseman for Team Canada at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championship. TSN's Bob McKenzie suggests Corrado could battle fellow OHL defensemen Cody Ceci (Ottawa 67's/Ottawa Senators, 1st round, 2012), Slater Koekkoek (Peterborough Petes/Tampa Bay Lightning, 1st round, 2012) and Stuart Percy (Mississauga Steelheads/Toronto Maple Leafs, 1st round, 2011) for one of two coveted roster spots.
• It's nearly impossible to conclude an edition of OHL Watch without mentioning the irrepressible Ryan Strome (New York Islanders, 1st round, 2011). The guy just won't quit. Strome recently added to his striking personal totals (52 points in 28 games) by setting up four goals in the final six minutes of a Niagara IceDogs' come-from-behind, 6-5 shootout victory over the Wolves. A perennial contender for OHL Player of the Week honors, Strome is threatening to average two-points per game. The Islanders must be thrilled.