A few days before the start of free agency the Rochester Americans announced that Taylor Leier signed a one year American League contract to return for the 2019/2020 season. Leier was acquired by the Buffalo Sabres in a fresh start type of trade by sending Justin Bailey to the Philadelphia Flyers.
In a combined 69 games between the Rochester Americans and Lehigh Valley Phantoms he had 42 points (22G+20A). He tallied 23 of those points (12G+11A) in an Amerks jersey in 35 games. With 316 professional games on his resume he’ll be considered an exempt veteran on the Amerks roster.
I asked Sabres Assistant GM Randy Sexton about Leier and what they liked about him to bring him back and he said, “We we liked everything about Taylor. You know he brings speed, he brings skill, he brings sense, he brings compete, and is a great teammate. Was very quickly adjusted to you know our standards and our level of expectation and it’s great probe so that was a real easy one.”
You never know what to expect when a player arrives like that in a trade but in this current era teams are doing their homework ahead of time to make sure someone will fit in not only with skill but as a person in the locker room. Leier arrived and immediately made an impact on the ice and that carried over into the locker room as if he’d been around all season. He wasn’t happy with the start of his season in Lehigh Valley found some confidence in his game again with the change.
Leier also made an instant impression on the Rochester fan base quickly becoming a favorite. Hard hitting, hard worker, and took time to interact with anyone that approached him.
Another impact Leier had was in the type of points he was tallying. First goals of a game, shootout winning goals, empty net insurance goals, and assists on impact goals.
Taylor Leier wins it in the shootout!! Amerks win 3-2. pic.twitter.com/BrmJE5ln4a
— Let's Go Amerks (@LetsGoAmerks) February 17, 2019
The initial reaction to Leier signing an AHL contract is that he understands his place and is likely getting a good paycheck. The fact that Rochester has set a foundation of being a winning hockey team again while helping drive careers forward makes the team an attractive option for free agents.
“I mean in fairness to Taylor he you know he had an off season off season surgery so it’ll quite likely delay the start of his season,” Sexton said when I asked if those were things that were enticing to Leier to come back. Sexton talked more about his future potential in the organization saying, “We all felt the best way to do that was start with an American League deal and then roll it into an NHL deal as long as he’s healthy and promising.”
Every year there’s examples of a player starting the season on an AHL contract, performing, and earning an NHL deal to get called up. Those can be young players and can also be players with a few years under their belt. Leier spent the 2017/2018 season with the Flyers playing 39 games and only tallying 5 points (1G+4A). He’s going to be that fringe player still looking for a chance and they’re willing to give that to him in Rochester. He’s only 25 years old and with a new sense of confidence and health this will be his season to shine and become a top American League player wanting another crack at the NHL.
Leier (unknown surgery) now joins Lawrence Pilut (shoulder) and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (hip) on the list of players from a Rochester perspective expected to miss the start of the season recovering from injuries. The Sabres will also have Zach Bogosian delaying the start to his season from off season hip surgery.
In case you also forgot, Leier was part of a dominant line with Remi Elie and Andrew Oglevie. Oglevie is healthy again with a year remaining on his contract and the Sabres qualified Remi Elie to return for the 2019/2020 season.