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Islanders' top pick not afraid to be himself

by Dan Rosen

Josh Bailey couldn't understand what he was doing there.

Why, of all places, was he sitting in a room with the top executives from the New York Islanders, including GM Garth Snow, days before the NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa?

"I asked them straight up, 'You guys are picking fifth, so what is your incentive to fly me down?'" Bailey told "Like any other team, they didn't know what they were doing with the pick. They didn't know if they were going to trade down, and sure enough they did and I was happy."

Some would consider what Bailey did pretty gutsy. Here was an 18-year-old kid from the Ontario Hockey League asking a team of executives, including a former NHL goalie who was leading the interrogation, what they wanted with him.

Then again, it's those guts and that fiery personality that convinced Snow and his staff of Bailey. That the Islanders got three more draft picks by trading down to No. 9 to select him only made the decision to fly Bailey in for an interview that much smarter.

Now that the Islanders have tabbed former AHL Coach of the Year Scott Gordon as their coach, Bailey feels he's ready to impress him at his first NHL training camp next month.

If he does enough, there might just be a roster spot waiting for him on Long Island, meaning the Windsor Spitfires may have to find a new team captain for 2008-09.

"I'm on the board and it's up to me," Bailey said. "It's not up to them to pick me. It's up to me to go perform. If I do that I have a chance."

The Islanders loved that Bailey was so up front during his interview.

"It did show some guts, but I really think it was just him trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together" Assistant GM Ryan Jankowski told "It got him thinking, 'Maybe they'll trade down or pick me at five.' It gave him a chance to prove to us what type of kid he is, and he certainly did that."

The move at the draft table, though, was not met with much fanfare among Islanders fans, who booed the trades and eventual selection of Bailey at a draft party inside Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum.

"I understand it," said Bailey, who led Windsor with 96 points last season and finished third in the OHL with 67 assists. "They were hoping to get a fifth pick. Being a fan of hockey myself, if my team did that I would probably be upset, too, but that's not realizing why they did it."

The Islanders dropped four spots so they could collect more picks, but Bailey said the fans' ire fuels his desire to prove to everybody he was worth it.

"Absolutely," he said. "Everywhere I have played I have always gotten along with the fans. I'd like to keep it that way. Fans are a huge part of the game. If you don't have fans, you don't have anything. I want to be a fan favorite and I'll do what I can to become that."

The Islanders view Bailey as a future top-six forward along with fellow youngsters Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau and Jeff Tambellini.

"He has top-six talent, and now it's just about what he wants to do with it," Isles' scout Eric Cairns told "He's going to put points on the board and pucks in the net, but he'll do the little things that will get him on the ice in many situations."

While Okposo, Comeau and Tambellini are pretty much locked into roster spots entering training camp, Cairns said Bailey is going to have to "wow a lot of people" for the Islanders to keep him.

That he would be returning to a fantastic situation in Windsor -- the Spitfires return one of the top teams in the OHL and Bailey is expected to be their first-line center and team captain -- make the odds of him earning a spot with the Islanders even longer.

If he returns to Windsor, Bailey could also win a spot with Canada's National Junior Team for the World Junior Championship in Ottawa.

"I'm on the board and it's up to me. It's not up to them to pick me. It's up to me to go perform. If I do that I have a chance."

-- Josh Bailey on what it will take to earn a spot on the Isles' roster

"He's in a win-win situation," Jankowski said. "If he comes to training camp and proves he belongs on the New York Islanders, then he'll get a serious look. He also has an awesome opportunity back in Windsor, where they will have a Memorial Cup contending team. From the development standpoint, we're going to be very patient. If he deserves to be there, then he'll have that opportunity. If he's not quite ready, he'll go to Windsor and that will help his development."

Jankowski said Bailey will have no shot to make the club if he enters training camp resigned to the fact that he's going back to Windsor.

"That's not to put pressure on Josh, but he can't come in with that mentality," Jankowski said. "If he comes in knowing that he's going to go back to Windsor, that's not going to help him."

If he plays well and proves to be the same person who had the guts to ask Snow, Jankowski and Co. what in the world he was doing on Long Island during that pre-draft interview, then he may wind up way ahead of schedule.

"They knew I wasn't going to go fifth overall, and it wasn't that they were being hush-hush about something," Bailey said. "I just asked them straight up. I didn't see a big deal about it."

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