Penn State Hockey

Penn State men’s hockey: Bailey signs with NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs

The Penn State men’s hockey team has a big hole in the lineup to fill next season.

The team’s leading scorer, and one of the nation’s best, has decided to turn professional.

Casey Bailey has decided to forgo his senior season, signing a contract Saturday with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The junior winger signed a two-year entry-level deal, the NHL club announced on its Web site. The Anchorage, Alaska, native was not drafted by a pro team and was eligible to sign as a free agent with any organization.

“I am truly fortunate and humbled by this opportunity to sign with such a prestigious Original Six organization, the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Bailey said. “I would also like to acknowledge how thankful I am for all of the love and support I have gotten over the years from my friends and family. I would not be where I am today without them. Also I would like to sincerely thank all of my coaches, teammates and staff at Penn State for getting me prepared for the next stage of my career.”

The Nittany Lions had known this was a possibility since mid-season, when it was rumored a number of NHL teams were interested in signing Bailey, including the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres, among others.

“I’m extremely happy for Casey,” coach Guy Gadowsky said in a statement. “He’s a great guy and a great player who had a great year. He deserves a lot of credit for his commitment to our objectives with and without the puck, and for the amount of work that he put into the weight room this summer and throughout the season with (strength and conditioning coach) Cam Davidson.

“We obviously would have loved to have him back next year, but at the same time this is a great step for our program. We will all follow Casey’s success in the NHL with great pride.”

While his scoring is what made Bailey a standout this past season, it was his work away from the puck that drew the most praise from Gadowsky, noting Bailey’s best offensive games also came when he was playing sound defense and helping his teammates.

The Nittany Lions finished the season 18-15-4, 10-9-1 in the conference, closing with a 3-1 loss to Ohio State in the first round of the conference tournament on Thursday in Detroit.

The All-Big Ten first-team selection had an outstanding season with a Big Ten-leading 22 goals and 18 assists, becoming the first Nittany Lion to reach the 20-goal and 40-point milestones. The Hobey Bake Award nominee was tied for seventh in the nation in goal-scoring entering Saturday’s games.

Bailey also led the nation with 211 shots, averaging 5.7 per game, unloading his powerful slap shot for numerous highlight-worthy goals.

His personal high point came on Jan. 9, with Penn State trailing Ohio State 4-0 early in the third period, when the junior keyed a rally with his first collegiate hat trick to help force overtime. The Buckeyes eventually won 5-4 in the extra period.

Bailey’s three-year Penn State career ends with 45 goals and 35 assists in 96 games, notching 13 power play scores.

Teamed with senior center Taylor Holstrom and sophomore winger David Goodwin, the trio became one of the most potent lines in the nation. Together for all but a handful of games all season, the threesome rocketed up the charts with all three among the nation’s leaders in either goals or assists.

Bailey will join Jake Gardiner, the older brother of Nittany Lion senior Max Gardiner, with the Maple Leafs, who at 27-39-6 are in need of an injection of life with the fourth-worst record in the NHL entering Saturday night’s games. The Leafs were playing the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, and Bailey could be in the lineup as soon as Monday’s home game against the Minnesota Wild.