NEWARK, N.J. -- Justin Bailey can vividly recall the days sitting on his couch as a young teen with his mom and grandparents in Williamsville, N.Y., passionately rooting for the Buffalo Sabres.
Williamsville, of course, is only a 20-minute drive from downtown Buffalo, where Bailey spent many days of his life.
Professional feedback helped Bailey
NEWARK, N.J. -- There's a reason power forward Justin Bailey appears so at ease in front of the cameras and bright lights.
He's been around it for practically his entire life.
His father, Carlton Bailey, spent a decade in the NFL as a linebacker and made three trips to the Super Bowl with the Buffalo Bills.
When he lived in Buffalo with his mother (Karen Buscaglia), he was introduced to former Buffalo Sabres players Rob Ray, Michael Peca and Matthew Barnaby, all of whom lived in his condominium complex.
"I still keep in touch with Barnaby the most out of all of them," Bailey said. "He kind of taught me the mental aspect and what to do each season, the things to work on. He's been there and done that."
He also received a recommendation from Danny Briere, through a friend, to read the book "Mind Gym: An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence," co-authored by Gary Mack and David Casstevens. Bailey said the book was inspiring.
"It was great to have a guy like that show me a book to help my game," Bailey said. "I was probably 11 or 12 years old and I actually bought another copy to re-read it. The thing that I think separates a good hockey player from a great hockey player is dedication and work ethic. If you can get a mental edge over guys, you'll be set. That's what the book describes."
Bailey has always been impressed with Briere's style of play.
"He's so calm on the ice, so silent, and he scores a lot of goals," Bailey said. "Hearing a recommendation from a guy like that to read that book was great because I knew it would help my game."
-- Mike G. Morreale
It's no wonder he had to pinch himself on Sunday when his hometown team selected him in the second round (No. 52) of the 2013 NHL Draft at Prudential Center.
"I remember watching Danny Briere … that was a turning point for me," Bailey said. "He was playing when I was 11 and 12 years old, and watching him made me want to play the sport of hockey."
Fast forward to Sunday, when the Sabres were on the clock with their third pick in the second round and a nervous Bailey waited with baited anticipation for the selection.
"Does it get any better?" Bailey said. "My birthday is [July 1] and I'll be spending it in New Jersey and Buffalo … it's a huge birthday present, for sure. My mom was next to me and she was tearing up a bit, and my grandma and grandpa were here as well. They want the best for me, and it's a treat to be able to be drafted by Buffalo."
Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier, whose team selected a league-high 11 players on Sunday -- seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender -- was thrilled his organization was able to land Bailey.
"I think we benefit by being able to select players from our community because they've got access to our facility and personnel, and if they're willing to do the work, we'll provide them with a lot of resources," Regier said. "He's a good story and a good athlete. He has a good background and strong family support behind him, so hopefully it works out for all of us."
Bailey, the son of former Buffalo Bills linebacker Carlton Bailey, finished second among rookies in the Ontario Hockey League for the Kitchener Rangers this past season with a plus-22 rating and tied for eighth with 17 goals in 57 games. He also had 19 assists and 36 points.
In just his third game with the Rangers, Bailey received his welcome-to-the-OHL moment when he was on the receiving end of a huge hit delivered by Calgary Flames prospect Pat Sieloff of the Windsor Spitfires on Sept. 27. Bailey suffered a concussion on the play and Sieloff was issued a charging penalty and game misconduct.
Bailey was sidelined five games while undergoing the required "return to play" protocol. At the time of his injury, the 6-foot-3.25, 194-pound right wing had zero points and four penalty minutes in three games.
"As much as you never want to see a player get hurt, [the hit] might have been a real eye opener for Justin to recognize how much respect he has to have for the level of competition," Kitchener coach Steve Spott said.
Following his return from injury on Oct. 19, Bailey had 17 goals, 36 points and a plus-22 rating in 54 games.
"I think the biggest stride he made was being able to know how to play a complete game that includes sharing the puck with people around him," Spott said. "When he came in, he was able to do things by himself and now he understands the concept of playing without the puck, and that's probably been his greatest stride."
In 2011-12, Bailey was helping lead the Pat LaFontaine-coached L.I. Royals to the Under-16 Tier I National championship. He'd connect for 21 goals and 34 points in 22 games and, at the time, was offered a full hockey scholarship to attend Michigan State University. His Canadian Hockey League rights were owned by Kitchener, which drafted him in the seventh round (No. 128) of the 2011 OHL Priority Selection.
"Justin's on the upward swing," Sabres director of amateur scouting Kevin Devine told NHL.com. "We had Connor Hurley rated further ahead of him, but to get Justin where we got him was a real nice surprise for us. He's a big guy who hasn't filled out his frame yet, and very athletic. He's just kind of getting it now after his first year in Kitchener. That's a heck of a league he played in, and to score 17 goals is a good accomplishment. His potential is unlimited."
The Sabres drafted Hurley of Edina High School in Minnesota in the second round, 14 picks ahead of Bailey.
Bailey said he's prepared to do whatever it takes to one day land a roster spot with the team he grew up watching.
"Growing up in Buffalo, we lived in the same condo as Matthew Barnaby, Michael Peca and Rob Ray," he said. "Barnaby helped me along the way with a lot of decision-making. It's good to have someone who has your back. He's experienced everything that I'm going to experience this year."
But it certainly won't come easy. Following Sabres rookie camp and perhaps accompanying the team and participating in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in September, Bailey will likely return to Kitchener for his second season.
"I feel I'm still learning, but I'll keep developing," Bailey said. "My dad played at 240 pounds and was 6-foot-4. I'd like to stay at 190 pounds. I need to win a majority of those battles along the boards and not get pushed around. I don't want to put on too much weight, but the sky's the limit. Having an opportunity to help the Buffalo Sabres is going to be special, and I really like the way they are rebuilding the team."