Note: If you missed these last year, these are our player-by-player report cards, an idea loosely stolen from Japers' Rink. The point is to delve into a player's season and come up with a grade -- through your vote -- of how he performed relative to preseason expectations. It's like grading on a curve, and avoids penalizing fourth liners for being ... well, fourth liners. The poll appears on the front page, but the raw materials are after the jump.
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Be honest: Before the home opener in October, with the Islanders staring at center depth of John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, Doug Weight, Richard Park and the Edmonton care package known as Rob Schremp Hockey, which of those would you have picked to spend the most time at left wing? I'd have said Weight, Schremp, and maybe even Tavares to ease his transition to first-line NHL minutes. But Bailey? The two-way center of the future? Not me.
#12 / Center / New York Islanders
Oct 02, 1989
1 more entry-level year at $1.725M cap, $850k base
This is the year we meet Josh Bailey, Grown Man.
6.6 (converted to 10-pt. scale)
Spare a Brother a Linemate?
Bailey modestly impressed in his (rushed?) rookie year in 2008-09 -- earning him the equivalent of a 6.6 community grade here last summer -- so it was reasonable to expect him to take another step forward in 09-10. He did that, though a mid-season stretch where he went seven games in December without recording a shot raised red flags. After that unassertive stretch was over, Bailey only had six more games the entire rest of the season in which he wasn't credited with a shot on goal. A move to left wing brought out his shot -- improved through off-season work -- and increased production.
However, the issue for the team and for Bailey's uncertain position (Am I a center? Am I a wing?) is one of depth: With Tavares munching top-line minutes and Nielsen consuming minutes against the opposition's best line, that left Bailey (and often Rob Schremp) to lap up the remnants. Schremp's magic is best seen on the powerplay, which is the ideal situation for any offensive player to boost his scoring stats. So to ask Bailey to produce at center was to ask him to do it with less-than-ideal linemates at even strength, and as a secondary option on the powerplay.
Next year will be interesting, particularly after the draft (assuming a defenseman with that 5th-overall pick) and free agency are sorted. Depending on the decision with Schremp (an RFA), it's quite possible Bailey's left wing experiment continues for a while, or he even spends his early years as a swing man according to situational need.
For the record, three of his 16 goals and 10 of his 35 points came on the powerplay. (Last year it was 3 of 7 goals, 11 of 25 points on the PP.) Pittsburgh's Alexei Ponikarovsky ended his season two-plus games too soon with that check from behind April 8 -- Bailey already had a goal in that game -- which resulted in a facial laceration and fractures and him missing the final two games.
No matter Bailey's offensive numbers, he remains as defensively responsible as billed: Despite sub-par linemates, his plus-5 was the highest on the team and his adjusted +/- at Behind the Net (rating) was second-best among Islanders forwards. Between Bailey and Nielsen, the Islanders have two young centers who will never neglect the storefront. That may really pay off in a couple of years when meaningful games are played.
Of course, if Bailey is going to realize his projection as a two-way center, that faceoff percentage (40.1% out of 426 total draws) will have to improve. Arguably, faceoffs is the only category in which Bailey did not take a reassuring stride forward this season.
The Cheesy Poem
(This is tradition, so you'll just have to bear with it or skim onward.)
Still looking for his ideal place
But at 20, this isn't a race
His handle is "Josh"
His passing is posh
Please steer Poni away from his face
Well, what say you? Please grade his season relative to your preseason expectations -- so a vote of 10 is somehow way exceeding any hopes you had for him back in September, whereas a vote of 1 would be a criminally harsh indictment of the team's fifth-highest goal scorer. I imagine the answer is somewhere in between, but the real fun will come when we're done with all the players and we see how everyone stacked up in our minds.
(And, I hasten to add, feel free to explain or elaborate in comments, as WebBard already has.)