The Philadelphia Flyers were riding high on on a four-game win streak when news broke that they would be without third line winger Matt Read for at least four weeks. Read was injured in the win over Nashville, the second injury to strike in just under two weeks with Sean Couturier already out of the lineup.
Couturier and Read are two of the Flyers most reliable players with Couturier as the second line center, and Read as the steady third line winger. It looked like things might take a turn for the worse with the Flyers having to reach to find replacements, but that was not the case. Enter Taylor Leier.
Leier was the first name that Ron Hextall and company thought of to replace Read, the general manager told Phantoms announcer Bob Rotruck last week. “Okay we need a third line left winger that can give us some speed and some PK minutes,” Hexy was thinking, “and Taylor was the guy there.”
And Taylor has further proven to be that guy for the Flyers since his arrival. One of the things Hextall likes most about Leier is that he’s the ultimate professional. Hell, he even wishes that Taylor was his son. “Taylor’s a real pro,” Hextall continued, “Taylor’s one of those kids that I think all of us as fathers if he was your child you’d be looking going ‘we did a pretty good job with this young man.’ He really is.”
Leier has “everything [the Flyers] embody as an organization,” he never takes a shift off, he works hard every night and he plays for his teammates. A true professional.
Most Flyers fans don’t get to watch too many Phantoms games, but now we’re seeing what Hextall was talking about as Leier has become a bright spot in the lineup over the past few games. Leier hadn’t been lighting it up offensively with Lehigh Valley, but he is one of the best all-around forwards on the team by all accounts.
Leier ‘only’ had 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 20 games in the AHL this season, with most of those points coming right before his call-up. From November 5th to December 4th Leier scored six goals and added nine assists for 15 points in 14 games. This included a two point night in his last game before the promotion. He also led all Phantoms forwards in plus-minus with a plus-seven rating, coming out ‘plus’ in a game nine times, while being a ‘minus’ just twice.
Leier isn’t quite scoring at a point-per game pace like he was with the Phantoms, but he is making plays and doing the little things right to show off his speed and skill-set on the fourth line. The rookie forward was under-used in his first two games, playing just 5:23 against Florida and 6:50 against Edmonton. That picked up a bit over the past four games, as he has eclipsed the nine minute mark twice, and has played more than eight minutes in the past three games.
These past three games have also been the best of his young career. He picked up his first career point, an assist, while also playing a career-high in minutes (9:41) and shifts (15) in Colorado. He followed that up with his first career goal off a nice play in Dallas.
Leier fed a pass to Cousins, and then followed up his linemate’s shot with a rebound goal. It was a great reward for his hard work over the past few weeks.
Leier’s playing time dropped by a minute against Nashville, mostly due to all of the special teams play in the second period, but he made his mark in his 8:20 of ice time.
He made a beautiful move to get around the defender and it was only Pekka Rinne’s stick that stopped him from depositing the puck into the gaping cage.
Take another look at how close he came.
That play didn’t result in a goal unfortunately, but it directly resulted in a power play for the Flyers as the Predators were called for a penalty just moments later.
Cousins and Leier almost hooked up for another goal just a few shifts later. Cousins found Leier speeding towards the net, and before he could get a shot off he was interfered with to draw yet another penalty.
Cousins and Scott Laughton formed a decent pair last season on the third line, and it’s looking like this could be that on overdrive with how much speed Leier can provide.
Leier has also done solid work on the penalty kill when called upon. He played 31 seconds against Edmonton and 31 seconds last night against Nashvile; neither team was credited with a shot attempt in the 1:02 total. He played a bit more on the penalty kill in Detroit, as the Red Wings fired off four shot attempts (two on net) during his 1:19 on the kill.
Despite playing very low-event hockey in terms of shot attempts most of the time as a fourth-liner, Leier has made the most of his opportunities. His corsi for has been 50% or higher in four of his six games, including a best 61.54% (8 for, 5 against) last night against Nashville.
After years of seeing enforcers, veterans trying to hang on, or just generally un-exciting players on the fourth line, Leier has provided a breath of fresh air for the orange and black. However, it might not be for long. With Couturier set to return after the Christmas Break, and Read a short time after that, Leier could be shipped back down to Lehigh Valley. He has played well enough to stay in the bottom-six, but his inexperience as well as Dave Hakstol’s reliance on veterans like Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise may force him to wait a little while longer.
When fully healthy the Flyers have seven (Giroux, Voracek, Couturier, Simmonds, Raffl, Schenn, Read) no-doubters, two centers (Bellemare, Cousins), and a “reliable veteran” (VandeVelde) ahead of him. That leaves Leier, Roman Lyubimov, Weise and Boyd Gordon to battle it out for the two remaining roster spots. He should be able to beat out Gordon, but Lyubimov seems locked in on the third line and Weise might be tough to budge.
We’ll see how the dust settles when the time comes, but for now let’s see how it plays out as Leier continues to grow into a full-time NHL player.
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