Atlantic Division prospects on the bubble

NHL - BUFFALO, NY - JULY 10: Buffalo Sabres Right Wing Justin Bailey (56) performs stick handling drill during on-ice practice at the Buffalo Sabres Development Camp on July 10, 2017, at HarborCenter in Buffalo, NY. (Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire)
John Crouch/Icon Sportswire

All over the NHL landscape, training camps have either begun or are set to begin this weekend. Many hopes and dreams ride on these camps — whether teams have traded, cut, bought out, or otherwise parted with players, there are gaps on nearly every league roster.

Drafted prospects, juniors standouts, and minor league stars gain a chance to fill those roster spots and shine on the primetime ice. Whether it’s an 18-year-old kid with stars in his eyes or a 25-year-old AHL veteran, the unrelenting desire to prove oneself worthy outweighs all other thoughts as the NHL’s preseason begins.

Though it is true that most teams know whom they’re pinpointing for a roster spot before camp even starts, dozens of players are on the cusp of breaking through, ready for their opportunity. This is more true for the Atlantic Division than any other NHL division.

The Atlantic is an essential list of up-and-coming teams designed to finally take down the almighty Metropolitan. With this in mind, teams will be looking for the final piece that sets them apart from the rest and gives them the edge over their interconference foes. What follows is a list of players on the bubble — those that are close to finally making an NHL roster in the 2017-18 season.

Justin Bailey – Buffalo Sabres

Throughout his career, Justin Bailey has been “the next guy up.” He’s been to five prospect camps, five training camps, and has played four solid seasons in the AHL. Somehow, Bailey is never able to show the Sabres’ staff that he has what it takes to dress for the team on opening night.

One gets the impression that Bailey knows his time is running out. Before long, he’ll be relegated to the minors permanently — sure, he’ll get the callup here and there, but for the most part, he’ll be a very good AHL player. That will be his legacy.

Bailey is very lucky that Buffalo crashed and burned last year. A new management staff and head coach have the team looking for completely different players. Bailey could fit the mold of the forward rookie head coach Phil Housely is looking for, as the Sabres attempt a flash rebuild and leap over the teams of the East into a playoff spot.

Kenny Agostino – Boston Bruins

The reigning AHL MVP, Kenny Agostino is the definition of “on-the-bubble.” A proven star, the high-scoring left wing is considered NHL-ready by many. Agostino has been nearly a point-per-game performer in his minor league career, scoring 183 points in 197 games. Though an impressive 62 of those points are goals, nearly 67 percent of Agostino’s production has been comprised of assists.

The Bruins could certainly use a playmaker in the lineup — what team couldn’t? With the recent signing of David Pastrnak, Boston is hell-bent on improving after a very disappointing 2016-17 season, and there is little question Agostino could help the team do just that.

Anthony Cirelli – Tampa Bay Lightning

After an impressive season with the Erie Otters, in which center Anthony Cirelli scored 30 points in 25 games, the Tampa Bay Lightning could give the young Canadian a good, hard look at camp.

Cirelli padded his OHL stats by boosting Hockey Canada at World Juniors, scoring at a point-per-game pace.

He is a fantastic two-way player, and though he’s a little light, he could make an impact for the Lightning, who have some room (likely in the bottom six) for a shifty forward. If Cirelli continues to impress at camp, he could make Tampa Bay’s opening night roster.

Of course, there are many teams with many players just like the ones mentioned above. This time of year is always exciting because one never knows who will break into the league. With the start of the regular season just a few weeks away, big decisions will be made in the coming weeks, and these players will be deeply affected by them.

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