ended the 2011-12 season on a scoring tear, racking up seven goals and 11 assists over the final 20 games.
While such point outbursts are often attributed to a player’s increasing confidence or newfound chemistry with linemates, Bailey’s late-season heroics also coincided with a less abstract change in his game.
Head Coach Jack Capuano moved the natural centerman to wing.
“There’s no question for us that moving Josh to wing really helped his game,” Capuano said. “He seemed more comfortable there. He showed an ability to make plays from the wall and he’s not afraid to get in blocking lanes and block shots.”
Bailey started his first game at left wing Feb. 28 in Washington, flanking center Frans Nielsen
, one of the National Hockey League’s most defensively responsible forwards. With Nielsen handling faceoff duties and serving as the primary “low” forward in the defensive zone, Bailey was able to focus more on his offense. He scored five points (four goals, one assist) in five games.
“Defensively, you play a lot more down-low coverage as a center and it’s a lot harder work,” Bailey said. “Once I was switched to wing, I would play 18 minutes in a game and feel like I still had a lot left in the tank. It freed up a lot more offense for me. Focusing more on the offensive part of the game and playing the wing, you get the puck in different positions and I think it was a welcome addition to my game.”
You can see as the year went on, the confidence that he has in himself now. The success he had on the wing was a nice change.” - Jack Capuano
Forward lines were shuffled after those five games and Bailey was moved back to center from March 10-15. He failed to collect a point in those four games, before reclaiming a spot on Nielsen’s wing for the final 11 games of the season. Bailey finished strong with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in those 11 games.
“As a centerman you’re battling a lot more down low, spending mental energy as well as physical energy,” Capuano said. “Josh is one of our top penalty killers too, so (the transition) may have relieved some of the pressure off of him.”
Bailey finished his fourth NHL season with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 16 games on the wing, compared to 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 64 games at center.
“The first thing to remember about Josh is that he’s still developing,” Capuano said. “He’s a guy that broke into the league at an early age, but you can see as the year went on, the confidence that he has in himself now. The success he had on the wing was a nice change.”
At 22 years old, Bailey has already played a staggering 291 NHL games. The Islanders ninth overall selection in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft showed tremendous offensive upside in junior hockey, with 96 points (29 goals, 67 assists) in his final amateur season. Next season, Capuano and the Islanders appear all but certain to continue playing Bailey at the position that allowed him to utilize his elite offensive instincts.
“With the way the season finished for me personally, I feel pretty good about playing wing,” Bailey said. “If I had to choose between the two, I’d take wing.”