VOORHEES, N.J. – I sent a text message to Flyers left wing prospect Taylor Leier. At least, I thought I did.
When the response came back that I had the wrong number, I apologized for getting it wrong.
The person on the other end of the phone, whoever they may be, sent another text:
“You don’t mind me asking,” the text said. “But you said you were from PhiladelphiaFlyers.com, so when you said ‘Hi Taylor...’ you wouldn’t have been talking about Taylor Leier would you?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“You mean Taylor Leier of the Portland Winterhawks,” the person asked.
“Well… yes,” I replied. “He’s a draft pick of the Flyers, but he does play junior hockey for Portland.”
“You mean, this was once his phone number?” The questions kept coming.
I wasn’t 100 percent sure. I had never called Taylor before, but it was a number I had for him. It was possible that I had a bad number, but I was none the wiser…
“Yes. I guess it used to be his number,” I said.
“Really,” that was one text. Then another: “OMG that is SOOOOOOOOO awesome!”
I finally caught up with Leier (his email address, thankfully, was correct) and when we finally talked in person Tuesday, I told him about the text message exchange?
“No way,” was Leier’s first response. “That’s unreal. But, I guess it’s kind of cool that whoever that person is knows who I am and is a fan.”
It was an understated reaction from an under-the-radar player. But maybe Leier deserves a little more recognition than he’s gotten so far… well, at least publicly.
“We think highly of him,” said Flyers Director of Player Development Ian Laperriere. “I really like this kid. He’s got a lot of skill and a lot of speed. He’s on a real good path right now for us and we’re really excited about him.”
It’s not just Laperriere who likes him either.
Mark Greig, the former Flyer who now works for the team as an amateur scout focusing primarily on the Western Hockey League, has watched him for a couple years now and sees a big difference just from last year.
“He was a little bit of a late bloomer,” said Greig, referring to the fact that Leier didn’t play Canadian Junior Hockey as a 16-year old. “You could see that he could skate and had some skill last year and we liked him enough to draft him. But he took a major step this past season and now he’s starting to open some eyes.”
Leier had a fine season for Portland. After missing the beginning of the season recovering from off-season abdominal surgery in Philadelphia, Leier recovered to score 27 goals and add 35 assists for 62 points in 64 regular season games for the Winterhawks.
In the playoffs, Leier notched nine goals and seven assists for 16 points in 21 games as Portland won the WHL championship.
Leier was at the top of his game and was playing in the Memorial Cup with Portland in his hometown of Sakatoon, Saskatchewan when he took a hit to the head from Saskatoon Blades defenseman Dalton Thrower, suffering a concussion and ending his season.
“I’m kind of taking it easy here [at Development Camp],” Leier said. “Lappy and the trainers have told me to take it easy. I feel fine, but I’m not going to do any battle drills or anything. It’s July. I don’t want to catch an errant elbow to the jaw or something, and then all of the sudden I have a recurrence of the concussion. I don’t want that to happen.”
Nor do the Flyers, who feel like Leier, a fourth round pick (No. 117 overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, is progressing nicely and still has a pretty high ceiling.
Leier knows how far he’s come, but knows the path ahead is still a long one to be able to fulfill his dream.
“I thought I had a good season, but it wasn’t as good as I’d like it to be,” said Leier, who was almost on a point-per-game pace last season. “I really struggled with that abdominal injury, and even after the surgery, I still felt it all season. It was tough to deal with, but I pushed through. I had good stretches, but I feel like I could do more and be better.
“I’m hoping I can help my team repeat as WHL champions and I can continue to improve my game to get closer to playing professionally.”
If he does, it won’t be long before more than just some random texter in Western Canada recognizes his name.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
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