The highly touted power winger was ranked 37th among North American skaters when the NHL Central Scouting midterm rankings dropped last week, but that came in the wake of a challenging first half-season with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers. The 17-year-old Bailey, who seems lighter on his feet than a 6-foot-3, 183-pound teenaged puck-chaser ought to be, has four goals and seven points in his past seven games while helping the Rangers climb back into contention. It appears as if he's made up for the development time lost when he missed three weeks with a concussion after a massive open-ice check from Calgary Flames second-rounder Pat Sieloff. The collision made it clear to Bailey just how a big step up the OHL is from what he knew in his age-16 year with the Long Island Royals.
""Since I've come back from the injuries, I've been playing better and better each night," Bailey says. "My welcome to the OHL was that hit from Pat Sieloff at the beginning of the year. It was a little bit of a wakeup call. Last year on a play like that, I could have got that pass or got around the D [defenceman], created a scoring chance off it.
"This year is different. Just in practice, you learn things you can do and what you can't — what you can get away with and what you can't. That just comes with experience. For me, the adjustment has progressively become easier and easier."
Bailey, as a newcomer to a Rangers club with designs on playing deep into the spring, will likely play a more supporting role over the season. The Williamsville, N.Y., native offers huge potential by virtue of his quickness and a body that will probably allow him to put on bulk without sacrificing mobility.
Bailey, like countryman Seth Jones whose father Popeye Jones was a NBA player and coach, is the son of a pro athlete from outside of hockey, but his story is much different. Bailey owes his drive to the mentoring from his mother, Karen Buscaglia, who raised him as a single parent with the support from Justin's grandparents, Bob and Donna Tronolone.
The winger's father is Carlton Bailey, who was a 10-year NFL linebacker who started for the Buffalo Bills' Super Bowl teams in the early 1990s. Justin Bailey acknowledges "he is my father" but it's his mother and grandparents who brought him up.
"Being a single parent, it's never easy," Bailey says. "I have a great family to fall back on. In the absence of my father growing up, it was tough. My mom never really gave up on things, she really stayed dedicated and pushed me to be as good as I could be. She always helped me make decisions. Growing up, I don't think my mom ever missed a game."
In the 1990s, Buscaglia was a neighbour with Buffalo Sabres players such as Mike Peca and Matthew Barnaby. As young as he was, Justin Bailey soaked up as much as he could about the mental side of becoming an elite athlete, which has led to a lasting connection.
"My mom's a huge Sabres fan, her dad's a huge Sabres fans," he recalls. "They practised before the season at the Pepsi Centre, which is the Northtown Center now and is about five minutes from my house. I'd go to one of those early practices that I had and the Sabres would be on after at 8 or 9 and I'd stay and watch them. When I was younger, I lived in the same condos as Matthew Barnaby and Michael Peca and Rob Ray and those guys. My mom formed a good relationship and I got a connection from that."
1. There is no area of the game a young player can neglect, but what is one skill you want to really display improvement over the rest of this season, leading up to the draft?
"Obviously, every kid wants to put up more points and I think the second half of the season is really where you show it. Especially for me, as a rookie. The first half's a little tough, feeling out the league and the second half is where you're supposed to play your game. I think consistency is something I really want to work on and something I've been working on."
2. You have to play your own game, but whom in the NHL do you watch because their playing style is close to what you'll need to do to get there and survive?
"I think [Carolina Hurricanes teammates] Eric Staal and Jordan Staal are two guys who kind of represent what I'm willing to take my game to. They're bigger guys but they're not just guys who just go out there and hit. They are pretty skilled, put up a lot of points each year and they're good defensively. I think they have it all and those are two guys who come to mind."
3. Which teammate(s) in Kitchener do you credit for really helping you adapt to the league?
"I think Ryan Murphy, Matt Puempel and Ben Fanelli are the three names that come to mind. They're the [19-year-old] leaders on our team. I hung out with a bunch of them at the beginning of the year. It was kind of cool hanging around with older guys and guys who have been through this stuff before."
4. You were named to the inaugural All-America Prospects Game in your hometown, but it was a bit of a twist that a concussion kept you from playing?
"It was tough. It was cool to be named for it and I still got to go home and see my family. But it was tough to watch, especially seeing someone who can beat him out in my hometown."
5. As an American on the Rangers who's also a rookie, did you say much about the outcome of the world junior championship (where goalie John Gibson led Team USA to the gold medal while Canada, boasting Kitchener coach Steve Spott and captain Ryan Murphy, lost out on bronze)?
"I had four teammates on different teams — Radek Faksa on Czech Republic, Tobias Rieder on Germany, Ryan Murphy on Canada and Gibby for USA. It was kind of cool to watch my own teammates and cheer for all of them. It definitely was fun to be able to chirp some of the guys that the U.S. won."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.