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Making the jump

Can Bailey, Baptiste and Ullmark solidify a role soon?

While the Sabres have been trudging their way through another rough season, the Rochester Americans have had a great year that has them squarely in the playoffs. 

It’s been a main reason why many of their players have not called up, or remained up, with Buffalo. But how long will it be until some of those guys are called up for good?

Justin Bailey

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Bailey was drafted 52nd overall in the 2013 NHL draft and projected to be a strong 2nd/3rd line scoring winger. After a year of seasoning in juniors, he moved to the Amerks in 2015-16, posting a solid 20-goal, 45-point season. In 2016-17, he split time between the Sabres and the Amerks, and finished with 23 goals and 36 points in 52 games while being named an AHL all-star.

This season, though, has been a nightmare for Bailey despite the Amerks rise in the AHL. He has been injured and only played 18 games, scoring just two goals with three total points. His speed and physical presence have been lacking compared to previous years, and he has even been demoted in the lineup because of this. He just hasn’t been right this season and it shows. Even his few games with Buffalo he was a non-factor.

Projecting Justin Bailey is one of those frustrating cases where he showed great promise early, but injuries and lackluster growth have slowed him down. Bailey has the size and enough speed to be a solid scoring winger, but it really is up to him to figure it out.

Jason Botterill is a big believer in kids growing for a long time in the minors, but Bailey will be 23 years old this summer and needs to find his game again. Frankly, Bailey should have made this past season’s Sabres roster and the 2018-19 season seems to be his make it or break it opportunity to join the Sabres.

Nick Baptiste

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Also drafted in 2013, Nick Baptiste was selected in the 3rd round (69th overall) and figured to be a potential two-way winger on the 3rd line with a little scoring touch. Baptiste cracked the Amerks lineup in 2015-16, taking a little while to learn the game while scoring 13 goals and 28 points. In 2016-17, Baptiste showed far greater scoring abilities with 25 goals and 41 points overall, growing quite well to be a more complete forward.

This season, he has been rewarded with some games up with the Sabres, so his numbers in Rochester are down a little bit compared to 2016-17, but his speed and emphasis to be stronger defensively have not gone unnoticed by management. Baptiste has been a bright spot in his moments with the Sabres showing good speed and puck movement.

If Baptiste continues on his current trajectory, expect him to crack the Sabres lineup next season. He needs to keep improving his defensive game as he has this year, but his speed and puck movement really could be the boost the Sabres desperately need on the 3rd or 4th line.

Linus Ullmark

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Drafted in the 6th round of the 2012 NHL draft, Linus Ullmark is continuing the long list of Sabres goaltenders who went from being doubted early on to becoming potential franchise carrying players.

Ullmark, like most goalies, took some time early on getting seasoned in Sweden before coming to the Americans in 2015-16. He had a good first season, and in 2016-17, took the reins completely as the starter, earning an AHL All-Star game appearance.

His numbers do not reflect how good he was in 2016-17, which caused the Sabres to send a pick to Las Vegas just to protect him in the expansion draft. This year, he has been even better for Rochester with another All-Star appearance and in his one game for Buffalo, he was superb.

Linus Ullmark should easily be the starting goalie in Buffalo in 2018, straight up. There shouldn’t be any competition. It would be utterly foolish at this point to keep Robin Lehner with the potential Ullmark has already shown and how quickly he has grown.

His positioning and reactions to play have always been superb, but this season it is his confidence and ability to let bad things go quickly that really have grown immensely. He should finish this season in Rochester to get playoff experience and avoid the darkness up top, but after that, consider him ready. If the Sabres jump in the standings and are in or near they playoffs, he could very well be the major reason for it.

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