There are late bloomers and then there is New York Islanders right winger Josh Bailey.
The 29-year-old veteran, now in his 11th season with the franchise, has hit his stride as his first decade in the NHL came to an end.
Over his first 639 games played with the Islanders, Bailey averaged just 0.48 points per game after recording 106 goals and 200 assists as he seemed destined to be nothing more than a bottom-six-caliber forward.
Bailey’s tenth season though, lined up next to former star captain John Tavares, saw an explosion in point production as he racked up 18 goals and 53 assists (71 points) in 76 games, good enough to earn his first-ever All-Star selection.
Regardless of that production (0.93 points per game), many wrote off Bailey’s season as they pointed to the fact that he played a full season alongside Tavares. It was going to be a flash in the pan, especially when Tavares opted to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs over the summer.
But Bailey has suddenly become the poster child of an Islanders movement that continues to prove the leagues and its analysts wrong.
After a goal and an assist during Saturday night’s victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, Bailey has 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 22 games, good for a 0.95 points-per-game average. It leads an Islanders team that has already exceeded expectations under new head coach Barry Trotz as they sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division with 26 points.
Sitting just three points out of first place, the Islanders take on the division-leading Washington Capitals on Monday night with a game in hand. It will be Trotz’s first time matching up against a Capitals team that he coached to a Stanley Cup title last season. The Islanders have been almost unbeatable against Metropolitan Division opponents this season, winning nine of their first 10 games of the season.
While the Trotz has needed to shuffle the left wing and center of his top two lines, the mainstay has been Bailey, who has churned out points regardless of whether his linemates are Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle or Brock Nelson.
Bailey has provided assists on goals scored by six different players and has scored off of helpers from six different Islanders as well.
So much for needing Tavares.