If I were to ask you who Justin Bailey was a few months ago, you may have known he was a former Sabre, spent a short time in Philadelphia, and was a Canuck for a few years, but I doubt you could have predicted what the future would hold in the Bay Area for the 2013 second-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres. What he has become in San Jose is a great story, and one that will make you forget about the pain of being a Sharks fan right now.
Bailey is from Buffalo, New York, and was living the dream when his hometown team drafted him. After some time in the OHL developing his skills with the Kitchener Rangers, Bailey was eventually given a shot at the NHL with the Sabres, playing in eight games of the 2015-16 season. He was starting to play for the team he would have grown up watching.
He spent three seasons playing for the Sabres scoring five goals and three assists for eight points in 52 games. His production wasn't anything special, but this was a player that had a true feel-good story about him. It was not an easy task getting into the NHL, but he had done it in such a way that everyone wanted him to succeed. It was a true cinderella story.
However, the clock struck midnight on this tale during the 2018-19 season. There wasn't a viable path forward for Bailey in Buffalo anymore. He's been passed on the depth chart by better prospects, so he was sent to Philadelphia. He played 11 games for the Sabres that year, getting himself an assist, but he wasn't being anything more than a passenger at this point.
In the summer of 2019, as an unrestricted free agent, Bailey opts to join the Vancouver Canucks organization. Spending the 2019-20 season mostly with the Utica Comets, he played two games witht he Canucks before COVID shut the world down. In the 2020-21 season, he played in just three games, all with the Canucks as a taxi squad member.
In the 2021-22 season, he spent 30 games with the Abbortsford Canucks, scoring 15 goals and 12 assists for 27 points, earning himself a 14 game spell with the big club before being let go in the summer. His career had started stagnate after starting off in such a feel-good story. At this point, all roads seemed to indicate the future of his hockey laid in Europe, away from the games elite talents.
In 2022-23, Bailey spent the entire season with the Bakersfield Condors. In 58 games, he had 19 goals and 13 assists for 32 points. Even his AHL totals were starting to suffer. Once again on the move, this most recent summer saw him join the San Jose organization. This may have been his last chance at cementing a place in a North American league.
In 16 games with the San Jose Barracuda. Bailey nabbed himself six goals and five assists for 11 points. When the injury crisis got bad for the Sharks, it opened the door for an NHL return for Bailey. This was a chance he could not afford to waste, a young Sharks team is enduring a rebuild, and now you have the chance to make yourself an important part of the roster.
Bailey has not disappointed. In 15 games, Bailey has a goal and four helpers for five points. He's become a key cog on the Sharks penalty kill, and plays the game the right way. If you ever watch him on the bench, you can see he is always willing to help the young guys better their games, and he will stand up and fight for his teammates. From the edges of North American hockey, to a key part of this team, Bailey really does have quite the feel good story.