It’s good to keep a spare Justin around. You know, just in case.
Cringe-inducing jokes aside, one of the goals of the Vancouver Canucks’ 2021 offseason was to improve their depth at forward, so that when injuries struck they were able to better weather the storm. That depth took a hit when Jonah Gadjovich and Zack MacEwen were claimed off waivers but they still have some quality players available in Abbotsford.
So, when Justin Dowling was placed on Injured Reserve (IR) on Tuesday, the Canucks were able to immediately call up another Justin to replace him: Justin Bailey.
When Dowling missed practice on Monday, it was called a “maintenance day” by head coach Travis Green, which is the same thing he said about Quinn Hughes before he missed a game. Players placed on IR are ineligible to play for seven days. Dowling was placed on IR retroactive to October 23, so he’ll be unavailable for the Canucks' next three games.
Canucks shake up lines ahead of home opener
At Tuesday’s morning skate, Bailey was on the fourth line with Juho Lammikko and Alex Chiasson, with Jason Dickinson missing. Dickinson left Monday’s practice for undisclosed reasons and may not be available for Tuesday’s home opener.
The morning skate featured some other shuffled lines. Bo Horvat’s line with Tanner Pearson and Conor Garland was kept intact — they’ve been the Canucks’ most consistent line this season — but Vasily Podkolzin was on a line with Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller at center, while Elias Petterssson was with Matthew Highmore and Nils Höglander.
Pettersson has gotten off to a slow start this season, while Höglander has been used by Green as a sparkplug to help get a line going.
“Hogs, he can kind of create stuff on his own a lot of times,” said Green after one game. “I’d like to keep Hog between 14 to 18 minutes and kind of shuffle him around because I think he can kickstart a lot of lines.”
Perhaps that’s the plan for Pettersson: play him with a high-energy player in Höglander to kickstart his offence.
Bailey has been Abbotsford's best player
As for Bailey, he has been fantastic for the Abbotsford Canucks to start the season and is well-deserving of the call-up. Bailey leads Abbotsford in scoring with 3 goals and 6 points in 5 games, including the first home goal in Abbotsford Canucks history.
According to Cody Severtson, who covers the Abbotsford Canucks for his site AHL Nucks Harvest, Bailey has “done it all” for the Canucks, including both sides of special teams, and has elevated his game.
Bailey’s blazing speed is a separating factor at the NHL level: at the AHL level, it’s almost comical. It’s unusual to see a 6’4” hockey player move at that type of speed and it makes him a force on the forecheck.
To go with that size and speed, Bailey has excellent hands, a great shot, and the vision and playmaking ability to create chances for his teammates. That combination has made him a top-tier player in the AHL but it hasn’t always translated to the next level.
Last season, however, Bailey looked like a different player in his all-too brief stint in Vancouver. He appeared to have found a role with the Canucks thanks to his size, speed, and work rate, earning a spot on the taxi squad. He got into three games with the Canucks and had superb underlying numbers in those games: the Caanucks out-attempted their opposition 26-to-12 and out-chanced them 13-to-4 with Bailey on the ice at 5-on-5.
Unfortunately, Bailey’s season was cut short by a hit from behind by Milan Lucic that went unpenalized. Bailey had to undergo shoulder surgery, while Lucic faced no supplementary discipline.
“Out of all the guys, that's probably the last guy I want to get hit from behind from,” said Bailey ruefully when he arrived in Vancouver this season.
Bailey was hoping to earn a spot once more at training camp this season but he faced further unexpected challenges: a positive COVID-19 test that forced him to quarantine in the US before he could enter Canada.
“I was rehabbing, training in Connecticut all summer and I went back to Buffalo for, like, three days just to see my family and get a skate in,” said Bailey. “[They] shot me a text, said make sure you get a test and I ran out and got one and obviously it came back positive. I didn't believe it. Went and got a second one and it was positive again.”
The late start for Bailey meant he missed all of training camp and only played one preseason game. That wasn’t enough for him to prove he belonged in the NHL. Now he’ll get another chance.
“I want to do the things that make me successful,” said Bailey. “I play with a lot of speed, obviously, I have a lot of size, and I want to make sure that I'm hard on the forecheck, hard on the backcheck, and I'm making my presence known shift in and shift out.”