If sports teams made trades based on the popularity of their players with the fans, Taylor Leier would still be a member of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Instead, as the old saying goes, sports are a business and Taylor Leier is now a member of the Rochester Americans. The 24-year old left winger was dealt to Buffalo for right winger Justin Bailey.
Leier was drafted by the Flyers in the fourth round of the 2012 Draft and played 226 games - the second most all-time with the Phantoms, scoring 56 goals and picking up 136 total points. He made his NHL debut during the 2015-2016 season and spent all of last year with the Flyers before being sent back to Lehigh Valley early this season. In 55 NHL games, he was credited with two goals and five assists.
The Sabres selected Bailey in the 2013 Draft, using their second-round pick to get a guy who was born and raised in Buffalo. At the time, it seemed like a match made in hockey heaven, but he never really caught on with the Sabres organization. Bailey has put up somewhat similar NHL stats as Leier, having played in 52 games and picking up eight points – five on goals and three on assists over parts of three seasons with the Sabres.
It’s one of those deals that gives both players a change of scenery, which may be just what they need. That’s especially true for Bailey, who may have pressed a little in his attempt to catch on with his hometown team.
“Obviously, it’s tough, being from the Buffalo area, but at the same time, my dream is to play in the NHL. Hopefully, I can continue to play well and earn my way back up there,” said Bailey, who credited the Phantoms players and coaching staff with helping him learn the Phantoms system quick enough that he could skate with the team Friday night in Hartford.
The crash course in all things Phantoms must have gone well because Bailey helped to set up the Phantoms first goal of the night in Hartford and then went on to record a goal and an assist in a wild, 6-5 loss.
One asset that Bailey has shown in his career is speed. Another asset that he’s still developing and might be the key to his success, is to use his 6’ 4”, 214-pound frame for every bit of power that he can muster.
“I bring that speed and I try to be physical as much as I can,” pointed out Bailey. “The speed creates plays for my linemates and for myself, but to make that jump to the next level, I’ve got to bring that physical aspect night in and night out.”
As luck would have it, Rochester played at the PPL Center Saturday night as Leier made his debut with the Americans. Neither player added any points to their totals in the matchup with their old teammates. The Phantoms saluted Leier with a video tribute prior to the game and the sell-out crowd gave him a standing ovation when he took the ice.
THE HUNTEBRINKER REPORT... Mike Huntebrinker played his first game with the Phantoms on Dec. 14, but has made his presence known in the past couple of games. Huntebrinker scored the shootout winner in the Phantoms 3-2 win over Rochester on Saturday and then notched his first AHL goal in a special Monday afternoon game in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Unfortunately, Huntebrinker’s goal was the only one Lehigh Valley tallied in their 2-1 overtime loss to the Penguins.
THE SAVER... Alex Lyon was a busy man against Rochester recording 49 saves, a career-high for the Phantoms goalie. The mark is the second most in Phantoms history and the most saves recorded in a game at the PPL Center. On Monday, Anthony Stolarz recorded 44 saves for Lehigh Valley. The weak defensive play in front of the goalies can be attributed to a depleted roster that has just seven defensemen active to go with 10 forwards. The shortage is due to injuries.
HANGING IN THERE... Even with a depleted roster and a tough stretch of games that saw the Phantoms go into an extended slide earlier this month, Lehigh Valley is third in the Atlantic Division, three points behind second place Bridgeport. The Charlotte Checkers are running away with the division with a 12-point lead over Bridgeport and 15-point advantage over Lehigh Valley. Only four points separate third place from sixth place in the division with the Phantoms, Penguins, Springfield Thunderbirds and Providence Bruins all packed together.