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What’s Next for Justin Bailey & Nick Baptiste?

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Forwards on the brink of NHL spots have crucial season ahead

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

At least for the time being, Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste are set to begin another hockey season in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans.

The two Buffalo Sabres prospects were both sent through waivers over the weekend. Both cleared, and as a result, have been assigned to the AHL club once more.

Both have seen some NHL time over the past few seasons, but have never been able to stick onto the roster full-time. Though they both lasted through much of this year’s training camp, in the end, there just wasn’t a spot for them on the NHL roster - and at this point, it may bring into question if either could be a full-time NHLer in the future.

It’s hard not to see the similarities in their paths. Both are 1995-born right wingers drafted in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo; Bailey went 52nd overall, with Baptiste picked at 69th.

Both spent three seasons following the draft in the OHL; Bailey played for Kitchener and Sault Ste. Marie, while Baptiste skated for Sudbury and Erie. In 2015, both made the jump to the AHL with the Amerks.

That season marked Bailey’s introduction to the NHL, as he was called up for eight games with the Buffalo Sabres. He also played 70 games with the Amerks, while Baptiste was a mainstay in Rochester, skating in 62 games there.

In the 2016-17 season, both of the wingers saw time in the NHL and AHL - but again, neither were able to solidify a spot on the Sabres. Bailey played 32 games at the NHL level, with 52 in Rochester. Baptiste saw 14 games of action with the Sabres and 59 with the Amerks.

Last season, it was much of the same. Bailey played 37 games with the Amerks and accrued 15 points, including 10 goals. He also had four points in 12 NHL games.

Baptiste played 36 games with the Amerks, putting up 18 points (7-11). He also registered six points in 33 games with Buffalo.

And now, both are seemingly in the same position: on the outside of the NHL club, likely to see a recall during the season but once again unable to solidify an opening-night roster spot with the Sabres. Though both have undoubtedly grown over the years, they haven’t proven themselves as full-time NHLers just yet.

Now, the question is: can they?

It’s a big season for both, as they’ll hit restricted free agency in the summer of 2019. Bailey is earning $715,000 this season, with Baptiste at $787,500.

Both were drafted under the regime of Darcy Regier, a few months before his departure, and if they haven’t proved themselves capable of being something other than a career AHLer, it’s possible that Jason Botterill may not qualify them next summer.

What would you do?