Nothing says “keep up the good work” quite like a promotion to the top line alongside two tremendous talents.
When the Philadelphia Flyers take on the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night in Missouri, it will likely be Taylor Leier who suits up alongside Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek on the team’s top offensive unit. It’s a quick jump for Leier, who would be going from an AHL call-up playing five minutes to first-line left winger in a span of only eight games with the Flyers.
He deserves it, though.
“There’s a lot of things to like,” head coach Dave Hakstol said via Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post. “He’s done a good job in a couple of different roles, but he doesn’t seem to change his game. He’s a pretty intelligent two-way player, responsible defensively and each and every night he’s brought good pace and good tenacity.”
Leier’s hockey IQ coupled with his raw speed and work ethic make him the ideal candidate to replace Michael Raffl on the first line until further notice.
Raffl is on the shelf with a lower-body injury for about another week or so, but he’s been a strong complimentary piece on the left side with the two Flyers stars Giroux and Voracek since the trio was reunited earlier this season. Hakstol, Leier and the Flyers all hope the 22-year-old can slide in and be an effective forechecker and two-way player next to the two playmakers.
His mind seems clear and focused, and he’s approaching the opportunity as mature and appropriately as a kid in his second short stint in the National Hockey League can.
“It is a big deal, but I’m just gonna take it day by day and bring the same gameday mentality that I always do and stick to what I do,” Leier said via Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post. “I’m not gonna play differently no matter what line I’m on. I’m gonna play the same way I played with Cousins and Weise if I play with G and Jake. If I get put up there, they’re putting me up there for a reason and that’s to play my game, stick to my strengths and bring speed and energy to those guys. Obviously those guys are world class talent and it will be nice to play with them if I get the opportunity.”
Leier’s workload has increased since a disappointing lack of ice time (5:23 TOI) in his season debut, with the 11:01 he played against the New Jersey Devils marking the most he’s played in an NHL game in his young career. Giroux and Voracek average close to 20 minutes a game, though, so it’s all but a lock that Leier will be seeing a substantial spike in his playing time for however long he’s paired with them.
He has adapted well to life in the NHL after not being able to adjust to the speed of the game during a scoreless six-game stint in November of last season and a forgettable first few games of this trip to the big show. Leier had just one shot and two penalty minutes and didn’t record more than eight minutes of ice time over the course of the first three games after his call-up, but is starting to find his game at this level.
Over the course of the last five games, Leier tallied his first NHL point with an assist, scored his first NHL goal and recorded six shots on goal while averaging over 9:30 of ice time. He didn’t commit a penalty and, with the help of his speed and Nick Cousins, actually helped draw a few minors.
The kid is finding his way at the highest level of hockey that the world has to offer, and it’ll be fun to see how he fares with life on the first line. For now, he’s more than comfortable with playing the same game he’s been playing and letting the benefits of playing with two talented linemates play themselves out.
Be sure to follow CJ Burns and Sons of Penn on Twitter and Facebook for analysis, insight, GIFs and more regarding your Philadelphia Flyers.