Bailey’s Patience Pays Dividends

Like the obscured sun during an eclipse, for most of the 10-year career of Josh (Ace) Bailey has been virtually hidden from the glare of publicity.

That is, until this season.

Stealthily, yet steadily, Ace has moved to the sunny side of the NHL street where he’s become a balance wheel of the Islanders attack.

For proof positive, check Bailey out on Thursday night at Barclays Center where the Islanders host the suddenly hot Carolina Hurricanes who have won three out of their last four contests.

[Watch Islanders-Hurricanes Thursday on MSG+ & Download Free on MSG GO]

“On many nights,” said coach Doug Weight, “Josh has been our best player.”

Up until the current NHL marathon, the 28-year-old from Bowmanville, Ontario had been located somewhere down on his club’s media totem pole, under Captain John Tavares, Anders Lee and Pick-Any-Other-Islander.

Looking backward, that foggy state of affairs seems long ago in Josh’s history.

Since the start of this season, Bailey has emerged as an indomitable Islander and one who now commands attention. If you don’t believe me, consult with general manager Garth Snow.

“Josh is very talented on the ice,” Bailey’s boss explained, “and a high character guy off the ice. In the past, he didn’t get the credit he deserved.”

Ah, but this semester, the credit is pouring in from all precincts. For example, early in November, the NHL voted Josh one of the week’s Three Stars.

The honor was based on Bailey’s seven assists in three games and a nine-game point streak.

Before that accolade had been delivered, Josh executed a memorable goal-scoring play that can only be labeled “The square-root-of-hyper-excellence.”

The highlight-reeler took place at Barclays Center on October 21 in the second period against the San Jose Sharks.

New York eventually won the game 5-2 and Bailey’s goal gave his club a 2-1 lead.

Here’s how it happened:

Josh’s line was fiercely forechecking but then his mates peeled off toward the bench. Meanwhile, Bailey remained in the middle of enemy ice, his radar telling him that something good might happen; and it did.

Forcing a turnover, Bailey snared the loose puck and then proceeded to do what one observer called a “ridiculous move” around Sharks captain Joe Pavelski.

He followed that maneuver by shoving the puck between his own legs, before skimming the biscuit behind goalie Aaron Dell.

“Josh does all the little things well,” explained Tavares, who considers Ace one of his closest comrades on the club. “I’ve always loved working with him.”

Bailey’s on and off experiences alongside The Captain only underlines Bailey’s versatility. Weight knows that whichever line Josh plays on Bailey will make that unit better.

That helps explain why the Isles plucked him ninth overall in the 2008 Draft, although he was preceded by Mikkel Boedker in the eighth spot and Colin Wilson in seventh.

Josh’s learning curve described a slow but steady upward climb, topped last season with a career-high 56 points (13-43) in all 82 games.

Based on his current better-than-a-point-a-game production, he could finish considerably higher than his previous best.

When I asked Josh to explain this so-far-career-year, he responded with typical modesty.

“I’m getting to play on the top line,” he noted, “and with that comes responsibility and confidence. I always have craved being in a position where I’m relied upon by my teammates and coach.”

His responsibility also has grown off the ice, where Josh and his wife Megan now have two boys, Wyatt is just over a year old while baby Mack is six-weeks-old.

Then there’s the responsibility derived from playing alongside his buddy, Tavares.

Bailey: “It’s not like we’re coming into this starting fresh. We’ve played together a lot over the past several years. John’s an easy guy to play with because he works so hard.

“I just try to create space as a winger and make sure I get the puck to him with speed coming out of the zone. In the zone, I try to be open and available and make good passes.”

As players get bigger, the need to find “space” becomes more imperative by the year.

A beauty part of Bailey’s game is his ability to allow his teammates to find open ice and generate scoring chances. That point has already been underlined by his unusually large assist total.

It’s also is reflected in coach Weight’s decision to employ Bailey on the power play.

“That increased role,” Ace allowed, “especially playing on the top power play unit was something that I really wanted. It’s nice and something I take very seriously.”

In a season where battles for postseason berths figure to be more challenging than ever, a productive Bailey from here to the finish line is imperative.

“When you consider that Josh had been a half-a-point-player for most of his career,” concluded Weight, “the rise in his play over the past year-and-a-half can only be described as ‘meteoric’!”

The coach calls it “meteoric.”

The Maven prefers The Square Root of Hyper-Excellence!

Either way, that’s Ace.

[Watch Islanders-Hurricanes Thursday on MSG+ & Download Free on MSG GO]