Being the first piece in the rebuild hasn't been without obstacles.
If you've been following our Spring 2012 Top 25 Islanders Under 25 closely -- and what else do you have to do with your free time ... work? -- then you probably deduced that the top five are all NHL regulars. (One of them will soon graduate, turning 25 in October.)
The greenest of this final bunch has 135 NHL games under his belt and is one of two more members of the 2008 draft class to hit our list. The other remaining '08 member is the most experienced of the top five, with a whopping 291 NHL games.
That player is Josh Bailey, who checks in at #5 on our countdown. Bailey is just 22 (he'll be 23 in October), and since his NHL debut his experience has always run ahead of his age, his performance always lagging behind expectations. One wonders where our panel would have put him if a late-season return to wing hadn't re-opened possibilities for this still-green NHLer.
By the end of the season, both Bailey and GM Garth Snow had embraced the idea that yes, yes Bailey's future looks more promising as a wing after all. It's as if the in-season departure of the enigmatic winger with whom he had uneven chemistry (Blake Comeau) paved the way for Bailey to take that Enigmatic Wing slot on the depth chart.
(Speaking of Comeau, his awful season made the Islanders look good for dumping him ... but how big of a bounce-back is he due?)
Remember the outcry when the Islanders first moved Bailey to wing a few seasons ago, and complaints of "they're ruining him" emerged? We're reaching the point where if he's fit to be an NHL center, it should start to show by now. Wing may, in the end, be the way to go.
It's possible Bailey's defensive instincts have long been overrated by Islanders fans. Certainly there are some own-zone decisions that make you wonder. But his passing and underused shot are perhaps underrated, and it was from the wing that he was better able to utilize both. We'll see what 2012-13 brings.
Regardless, at 22 Bailey is still very much in the conversation to be an offensive contributor, and with nearly 300 games already he possesses experience no one else in the Top 25 has. Whether that much-debated experience will ultimately serve him well, we're about to find out.
How We Voted
Here are our ballots for Bailey in the Top 25 Under 25. For the most part, I wouldn't say this reflects the relative potential we see in Bailey -- but it does reflect the contributions he is capable of making to the Islanders right now.
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