Josh Bailey remembers his first NHL game well.
"At the Coliseum against Philly," he said of his debut at age 19, on Nov. 11, 2008. "I missed a lot of camp that year and about the first dozen [14, actually] games. My family was there. It was special."
It seems all the more special now that Bailey, the ninth pick in the 2008 draft, reached his 500th game Monday night. For the many ups and downs of Bailey's career, he has been a fairly consistent player -- not flashy, but steady, and that counts for something during his eight seasons with the team that have been marked by a lot of inconsistency and upheaval.
Even this season. Bailey became the 25th player in Islanders history to play 500 games with the team, but he was still a healthy scratch three weeks ago. Ryan Strome was taken aback by his three-week demotion to Bridgeport earlier this month; Bailey spent a month in the AHL in 2010-11, at the end of his entry-level deal and during a period of time many Isles observers had already labeled Bailey a bust, or at the very least a player who was rushed to the NHL level on a team not well-structured enough to help him grow.
"It's definitely a feeling-out process when you're first here," Bailey said. "I know what my role is on this team though and I'm happy to fill it. I enjoy it. I've always looked forward to being part of this team when we're winning and I'm proud of the fact I've made it to this many games with one team."
And with so many of the same guys who broke in with the Isles around the same time Bailey did. Frans Nielsen passed the 500-game mark last season and plays his 550th game Monday night, tying Ken Morrow for 15th all-time. Kyle Okposo (474 games played) and John Tavares (453) will likely pass that plateau by season's end.
Bailey has goals in each of his last two games coming into Monday night's game with the Avalanche, giving him five on the season -- he's right around a 17-goal pace, which would be a career high, though he has only 32 shots on goal and that statistic is the one that's kept him from being a more highly regarded player around the league and sometimes by his own coaching staff.
"He and I have talked a great deal all about that, that consistency he needs to bring," Jack Capuano said. "He's starting to understand this season he needs to shoot the puck a little more."
But even if he'd been a consistent 15-20 goal scorer all these seasons, some expectations can never be met. He is roughly a point every-other-game player, usually strong in his own end and versatile as either a power-play or penalty-kill participant.
"You definitely reflect and see how far we've all come, how we've gotten a little older and hopefully better," Tavares said. "I think Josh and I were in similar situations when we came into the league a year apart -- the team was struggling and as individuals you're trying to establish yourself. He has a great sense of who he is as a player, what he wants to do and how he does it."