A saying you sometimes hear in discussion of prospects is that prospect development isn't always linear. Which, in other words, means that there's no one single path for a player to make his way from "prospect" to "NHL player", and that some players take different leaps forward in their development at different times. Some make a huge statement at 19 years old, some are late bloomers, some land anywhere in between.
As for Flyers forward prospect Taylor Leier, he's certainly hoping that his development ends up being linear. Because another step forward for him could be the difference between a third straight year in Lehigh Valley and a spot on the Flyers' roster.
No. 14 : Taylor Leier
Age: 22 (2/15/1994)
2015-16 League/Team/Statistics: Lehigh Valley (AHL) - 20 G, 29 A in 71 GP
Nationality: Canadian (Saskatoon, SK)
Acquired Via: 2012 NHL Draft -- Round 4, Pick 117 (Pick acquired via Columbus along with Pick No. 45 in 2012 and a fourth-round pick in 2013 for Sergei Bobrovsky)
Since being drafted in 2012, Leier really has taken a step forward in every season he's played. He went from a player with a grinder-type projection from that 2012 draft to a 37-goal season and a spot on Team Canada's World Junior roster in 2014, and has followed that up with a respectable rookie AHL season in 2014-15 and a sophomore campaign that saw him finish second on the Phantoms in total points this season.
Leier's brought himself from the fourth round of the draft -- by definition, a place where long shots roam -- to the fringes of the NHL roster discussion in four years' time. The Flyers clearly liked what he's done with the Phantoms; they called him up in mid-November for a six-game stint at the NHL level to fill in for an injured R.J. Umberger.
ESPN's Corey Pronman ranked Leier ninth (Insider link) in the Flyers' system (eighth among skaters) last month, and singled Leier out as the team's "noteworthy prospect" outside of his top 120:
Taylor Leier took his game to another level this season. He was third in the AHL in shots on goal and was an all situations forward for the Phantoms. He can skate, handle the puck and defend at above-average levels. He didn't show a ton in his brief time in the NHL, but he's on the cusp.
Now, Leier and the Flyers are both hoping that he's got one more step forward in him -- one that leaves them with no choice but to get him on the NHL roster.
Right now, it seems like the chances Leier breaks camp with the Flyers are slim. The team's forward ranks as they stand are pretty crowded, with at least 14 players vying for 12 lineup spots. But if Leier gets out to a hot start, and a bottom-six forward gets injured, it wouldn't at all be surprising to see Leier get another shot. At worst, he would fill in for a few games; at best, he'd well enough that the team has no choice but to give him a longer look in the NHL lineup.
The fair question to ask about Leier, then, is this: how good can he be? What's his ceiling as a player, and what do the Flyers see him as? Remember, at the time they called him up back in November, Leier was replacing R.J. Umberger, who the Flyers (perhaps charitably) were then using as a bottom-6 forward. Would he have been the call if the Flyers were trying to replace a more skilled, top-6 option? Tough to say.
Still, there's no doubt that Leier can play. He's a strong skater with an excellent two-way game, and that skillset can usually get you onto an NHL roster somewhere. If he tops out as a solid bottom-6 forward, that's still a successful fourth-round pick, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him break through in that role with the Flyers at some point this season.
But we'll be looking and hoping for that one more step forward this year. Leier's shown progress every year and is now a good AHL player. If he's a dominant one this year, then that's what will get people really excited to see his next stint at the NHL level -- one which will hopefully last a lot longer than his first one.
How we voted for Taylor Leier :
How we voted at No. 14 :
|Anthony Stolarz||German Rubtsov||Pascal Laberge||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Robert Hagg||Radel Fazleev||Mark Friedman||Taylor Leier||Taylor Leier||Oskar Lindblom|
Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, Summer 2016: