Lambert: Bailey's game growing at NHL level

February 21, 2017
The 2016-17 season for the Rochester Americans has not gone so well as originally thought.

The Buffalo Sabres' farm team have the second worst record in the American Hockey League at 21-29-0-2 and 44 points. Rochester has given up the fourth most goals in the AHL, and are 14 points out of a playoff spot.

While the season has been a struggle for Dan Lambert's team, the first-year Amerks head coach is trying to get some of his players ready for the National Hockey League.

"A big part of the master plan of me being in Buffalo last season was to learn the Sabres' systems and to use the same language that Dan [Bylsma] and his staff use," Lambert said with Howard Simon on Monday on WGR. "We were able to do that with our players here and we try to practice the same way they do."

"We still try to push our guys so that when they get the call up that they are ready, and they understand exactly how the Sabres play. It's basically a seamless transition."

Lambert came to Rochester with a good number of Sabres prospects returning to the Amerks for their second professional season. Perhaps the most notable of these players is forward Justin Bailey.

The Williamsville native had a successful second half to his season last year in Rochester, and finished his rookie campaign with 20 goals and 45 points in 70 games played. His play in the later portion of the season earned him a call up to the Sabres where he played in eight games.

This season, Bailey has two goals and an assist in 19 games played with the Sabres. Bailey scored his first NHL goal back on January 3, 2017 in a win over the New York Rangers. In 39 games in Rochester, Bailey has 19 goals and 29 points.

Lambert has been impressed with Bailey's growth this season in hockey, and is hoping that the 21-year old will have a successful future with the Sabres in Buffalo.

"I think from last year when he got the odd game that Justin got in Buffalo, he was inexperienced," Lambert said. "I think you show up after getting called up to the NHL, you're a little bit wide-eyed and you think, 'Wow. I'm here now.' And sometimes after a game or two, you go back to your junior habits. I think he's learned from that, and watching him play this year with the Sabres he's moving his feet a lot more. The strength of his game is his skating ability, and he's done a good job of that."

Bailey was a second round pick of the Sabres in the 2013 NHL Draft out of the Ontario Hockey League with the Kitchener Rangers. After finishing up in the OHL in 2015, Bailey joined the Amerks looking to kick-start his pro-hockey career.

Part of Bailey's growth in professional hockey has been learning to become a good two-way forward, and to further develop his offensive play by becoming a better player in his own end.

"When you play in the National Hockey League, you have to really be able to play a 200-foot game," Lambert said. "I think that was maybe Justin's lack of playing in the [defensive] zone and understanding that that's often more important than playing in the [offensive] zone. When you take care of your own end, the offense will always come."

Bailey was recently assigned to the Amerks on Monday while the Sabres are on their mandated five-day bye week. Rochester will travel to Buffalo to play at the KeyBank Center on Wednesday as they host the Utica Comets. The Amerks will also play Friday night at the Blue Cross Arena against the Syracuse Crunch, before the Sabres will play Saturday night in Colorado against the Avalanche.

There is a chance that Bailey could return to the Sabres once they bye week has come to a close. If he does get called up to Buffalo again, Lambert believes Bailey will make it difficult for the Sabres to send him back to Rochester for the rest of the season.

"He has been playing on [the Sabres'] top line with some very good hockey players, and he's looked good and he's taking advantage of his opportunity," Lambert said. "His job is to make it difficult for the Sabres to send him down. When they think of their future, it's no question that he should want to be there. I think he's doing that by creating offense and by skating."

You can re-listen to Lambert's interview with Howard below. Also hear what he had to say about other players like Nick Baptiste, Evan Rodrigues, Alexander Nylander and Hudson Fasching: