“That’s kind of the way it goes for a 76-game schedule,” Leier said of his 2014-15 season, his first as a pro. “You get hot and you get cold, hot and cold. It’s hard, especially as a younger guy in a new league to be that consistent throughout the year.”
In his first 47 games as a pro, Leier was a top line staple for the Phantoms, tallying 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists). Leier suffered a multitude of injuries – three separate upper body ailments in the final 30 games of the season – that slowed his offensive production and ice time, leaving him goalless in his final 26 games.
“In my mind, I’m really hard on myself so I don’t care about the injuries. I think I should have kept scoring the whole year,” Leier said, though he mentioned he was proud of himself for gutting it out and finishing the season playing through the injuries. “I’m really eager to get going again this year and hopefully get some games with the Flyers.”
Now with a season under his belt, Leier is hoping to stay healthy and make a name for himself in Lehigh Valley again in 2015-16, while trying to prove he can handle play at an NHL level. He might not have the benefit of re-forming the duo he had with Scott Laughton last season in Allentown, but that doesn’t seem to bother him.
“I feel really confident,” Leier said, adding, “It’s weird how much different you feel after just one year. You just get that feeling like you’ve been there before and you’ve done it before and you can do that much better.”
Many young players go through it in their first year. It is a big adjustment from Canadian junior hockey to professional hockey in the AHL. It is rarely a seamless transition. There is usually a learning curve and just about every player talks about how it is a process. Adjusting to everyday life as a pro athlete entails just as much on the ice as it does off the ice.
“Sometimes you got caught thinking too much in a new league as a rookie,” Leier said of his progression last season. “It’s a little different mentality [entering this season]. I’m feeling more relaxed, just eager to get out there to make plays.”
Leier has come into the 2015-16 season both stronger and wiser than this time last year when he entered the pro ranks. A full season with good health will do wonders for his development, and if he can pick up where he left off before injuries derailed the second half of his rookie season, he could easily be a 20-25 goal scorer in the AHL this season with the Phantoms.
His goal-scoring ability was in evidence in the Phantoms’ preseason opener. With his team trailing 3-0 after the first period, Leier stepped up, blowing past a defender on the left wing and skating to the net. He outwaited the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goaltender, Brian Foster, then went forehand-to-backhand to lift one past Foster to start a rally which saw the Phantoms come back to tie the game at 3.
Leier was one of three players who sported an alternate captain’s ‘A’ on his jersey for the Phantoms’ preseason opener – something Leier was clearly proud of.
“It felt really good,” Leier said of having a letter on his jersey following Wednesday’s preseason game. “It makes me feel really good that [I am] thought of leadership-wise. It’s a proud thing to have on your jersey, and I was honored to have it on mine.”
While Leier will begin the season with the Phantoms, it’s an opportunity to play meaningful minutes with the AHL club and perhaps catch the eye of Flyers’ general manager Ron Hextall as a call-up option when injuries arise in Philadelphia.
“I’m ready for anything they throw at me. I’d be willing to accept any chance with the Flyers,” Leier said. “I want it. I want to make a name for myself.”
Follow Tony Androckitis on Twitter via @H_P_Hockey