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Time is Running Out for Older Prospects

Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste are set to be on the outside looking in. Can they find a fit?

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

As we grow ever closer to the season, a large amount of the hockey world finds themselves increasingly hot about a Sabres prospect.

Before you ask – yes, it is Tage Thompson.

Thompson has been given an opportunity with being invited to a big league camp and from there, he has taken every opportunity without hesitation. His ability to play anywhere in the lineup without issue has been noted as well.

When it comes to prospects you’ll find a Tage Thompson but you’ll also find a Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste.

Both Bailey and Baptiste, coming off a season where they played a combined 45 NHL games last season, came into camp with higher-than-normal expectations for a multitude of different reasons.

Right on the surface, their personal success in the AHL coupled with time in the NHL was expected to push both of these players to the head of the class in the race for a spot in Buffalo’s bottom six.

That has yet to happen.

As mentioned above, players like Tage Thompson have taken their opportunity and turned it into an even bigger opportunity while Baptiste and Bailey find themselves paired with likely-bound AHL players.

Lack of contractual options were also expected to push Bailey and Baptiste. Both players find themselves waivers-eligible heading into this camp, which should have lit a big fire.

Note: Both Bailey and Baptiste are waivers-eligible for the first time in their professional careers because their first pro-game season was at age 20. Per CapFriendly, this provided both players with three years or 160 NHL games of waiver-ineligibility. This is their fourth year with the organization, which now makes them waiver-eligible.

Bailey’s height, weight and shot are what should make him a NHL player. Inconsistency is what has him pinned as a fringe NHL forward. This is no secret when it comes to Bailey. He has always been able to turn it on but if Bailey finds himself in the bottom six, consistency is the name of the game. Being able to do all the little things that make third and fourth liners successful is usually what Bailey’s game lacks.

As for Baptiste, there is no doubt that he has the hockey IQ. When on the ice, he thinks the game at a different speed and his work ethic is second-to-none. The only problem for Baptiste? He lacks the actual skill set to set him apart from other prospects. Baptiste will give you every single piece of himself during a game but will ultimately be best suited for a bottom six role, which he has not been able to secure this preseason.

While it appears the ship might have sailed for both of these players to crack the opening night roster in Buffalo, it will be intriguing to see where Jason Botterill decides to go from here.

Could Buffalo attempt to sneak them through waivers and stash them in Rochester? Sure. This would most certainly be the best case scenario, aside from both cracking the roster.

Both Bailey and Baptiste could go back to Rochester and continue to work with the next wave of Buffalo Sabres prospects all the while continuing to build and work on their own individual games.

Could Buffalo ship Bailey and Baptiste to different organizations? Just as much of a possibility.

We have already seen Jason Botterill do something like this, if you take a look at the Hudson Fasching trade from earlier this offseason.

Botterill identified a match and made a move that helped push his franchise closer to the identity he is ultimately looking to build, even if it was a minor trade.

Prospects continue to be a hit-or-miss crapshoot, which we have most certainly seen with Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste. Both of these players still have the opportunity to develop into NHL regulars but their time with the Buffalo Sabres organization is most certainly running out.