Fit for an NHL jersey

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:08 AM ET

Jason Bailey already measures up favourably with the big boys in one department

The training room.

"His strength is just as good, if not better, than the NHL guys," says local fitness guru Tony Greco, whose rapidly growing stable includes the likes of strapping big-league defencemen Chris Phillips and Dan McGillis. "He's only 18, and he's pushing the same kind of weight ... because he's so young, he always wants a little more.

''He's got the warrior attitude. He's hungry. He wants it. I'm very excited to see how he'll do at the next level."

56TH RANKED

Bailey, a character-loaded, 6-foot-1, 206-lb. winger from Nepean, should get a hand on that level at the NHL draft today. Central Scouting has him ranked 56th among North American skaters, and most believe he'll be picked somewhere between rounds 3-5.

"It'd definitely be nice just to get drafted," he says, acknowledging all possibilities. "I've heard different things ... but anything can happen at the draft."

There is talk some teams would rate Bailey a little higher if he was going to play in the OHL this season. A 2003 second-round draft choice of the Ottawa 67's, they feel he'd benefit most from experiencing a 68-game major junior schedule and the guidance of coach Brian Kilrea.

But Bailey, a former Nepean Raider who is coming off a nine-goal, 12-assist and team-leading 176-PIMs in a 45-game whirlwind season with the U.S. under-18 national squad, has other plans.

He is headed to the University of Michigan, where he will play for another NHL legend -- Wolverines coach Red Berenson.

"As of right now, I'm committed to Michigan," Bailey says when asked if he would play for the 67's if the NHL team that drafts him insists. "That's where I'll be skating this year."

Bailey is one of a half-dozen Wolverines ranked by Central Scouting. The list is headed by defenceman Jack Johnson, his closest friend and next season's roommate, who is rated fourth.

The pair were members of the U.S. team that won the IIHF world under-18 tournament in Prague last April.

"It was unbelievable to be a part of that championship team," says Bailey, a star with the CJHL's Nepean Raiders before putting to use his dual citizenship to play south of the border. "The (under-18 team) was a great experience. I traveled all over the world and faced international competition. But the coolest was (the tournament) in the Czech Republic."

Bailey says he started believing he'd one day have a chance to play in the NHL when he was drafted by the 67's. He grew up cheering for the Senators and would like nothing more than to be picked by his hometown team. But, like most prospects, he'll be thrilled no matter who calls his name.

NO INVITATION

It's only too bad he won't be there in person to hear it. Only top-round picks have been invited to attend this year's scaled-down draft at the Westin Hotel.

"It does take away a little of the excitement," admits Bailey, who could have been surrounded by supporters had the event been held at the Corel Centre, where it was scheduled before the NHL shut down for a year.

"It's unfortunate for the fans and friends and family that they can't come and see you putting on a sweater. That's pretty cool. But at the end of the day, you're still getting drafted."

And Bailey will have his supporters by his side at his home.

"I'll be sitting on the couch, in the den, watching TSN," he said. "And waiting by the phone."

Calling will be an NHL team that puts a premium on strength and character.

don.brennan@ott.sunpub.com


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