By Thomas Harrington
An undrafted college free agent, Matt Bailey played his first professional season for the Norfolk Admirals this past season.
Bailey is the first prospect that I will be going over who played for Norfolk last year. Unfortunately for Bailey, three of his four years in college were spent on losing teams, and his first professional season followed a similar pattern. The Admirals did not have a good season and missed the playoffs by a wide margin, finishing tied for last in the Eastern Conference and in a three way tie for second to last in the AHL. Bailey didn’t put up a lot of points in his first full season, only scoring six goals and 10 points. The highlight of his season probably came back in October when he scored in back to back games against Hershey and Manchester.
A year ago, I said that Bailey could go either way in terms of making it to the NHL. He doesn’t have a high end skill set, but he’s a hard worker and a dependable player who can play both the center and wing positions. Last summer, I said that Bailey’s first goal needed to be to appear in as many games as possible, and he appeared in 56 of Norfolk’s 76 games this past season. When in the lineup, Bailey was used as a bottom six, shut down center. He didn’t score much, but that wasn’t his number one priority; stopping the other team’s best players was. Bailey was a healthy scratch 20 times last season, and considering that it was his first professional season, that’s not terrible. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to have young players sit out and watch a game. Bailey was most often a healthy scratch when Chris Wagner was in Norfolk’s lineup, and saw more ice time when Wagner was called up.
It’s hard to evaluate how much Bailey progressed this past season, but overall, based upon what I’ve read about him, he had a good start to his professional career. At first glance, the 10 points are a little concerning, but considering his role as a shut down player and his rookies status, it’s not terrible. In the NHL, rarely are young players used in shut down roles, that position is usually reserved for more veteran players who know their opponents better. Even though it was at the AHL level, I think that it’s a good sign that he was being used in a shut down role.
Bailey is currently signed for one more year and will be a restricted free agent next summer. He will spend all of next season in San Diego, as the Ducks have a lot of depth both on their roster and in San Diego, so don’t expect Bailey’s potential NHL debut anytime soon. Last year, the focus for him was getting as much game action as possible, something that I felt was important for his first year of professional hockey. This season, I’d like to see him play in 60+ games, and also become more of an offensive force. If he wants to make it to the NHL, he’s going to need to stand out from the rest of the young forwards that the Ducks have. Playing solid defensively is only part of the equation. It’s a good first step, but if he wants to make it to Anaheim, his offensive game will need to improve as well.
It’s hard to say if Bailey has an NHL future or not. The next year or two will be very telling in terms of where his career will take him. He’s already 24 and has only played one year of professional hockey, so he’s behind other prospects because of his age. However, if he can start scoring on a more consistent basis and continue to play well defensively, he could have a future as a bottom six or fourth line role player.
My next prospect update will be on Kenton Helgesen.
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