How Acquired: Signed as free agent, August 13, 1999.
Buffalo stats (1999-2004): 90 games; 8-12-20, 32 PIMs
Career NHL stats (1994-2004): 149 games; 11-21-32, 48 PIMs
Chris Taylor has made a career out of helping young players.
The former Sabre is in his fourth year doing just that as an assistant coach with the AHL’s Rochester Americans, with whom he played 519 games over eight seasons. The most gratifying part of his coaching job, he says, is no different from what he took pride in during his playing career.
“For me it’s getting those players up,” he said. “Even when I played for Rochester, it’s seeing those players get to the next level. Seeing Marcus Foligno play as well as he’s doing up here, and seeing Zemgus Girgensons and all the young guys you tried to help develop and help them get their game going up here and thriving, it’s always good to see.”
Taylor spent four seasons fluctuating between Buffalo and Rochester from 1999 until 2004; his career high for NHL games in a season came when he played 54 games for the Sabres during the 2003-04 campaign. He spent the next two years playing solely for Rochester, and then went to play three seasons for the Frankfurt Lions in Germany.
While overseas, however, he never sold his home in Rochester, making the decision easy for him to come back for another two-year stint to end his career. All the while, he always thought he would one day find himself in a coaching role.
“For sure,” he said. “My first thing was to help the young guys, especially being an older guy in the American League; you’re an extension of the coaching staff pretty much. I really believe guys like Matt Ellis are big in the American League because they’re an extension of us and they help talk to the guys in the room and that’s what I tried to do when I played. It’s just a rewarding thing when you can go and see how these young guys are doing.”
With that in mind, Taylor called the Sabres organization shortly after retiring in 2011 to see if a role was available. They gave him a job as a development coach in Rochester, a title he held until he was promoted to assistant coach midway through his first season.
As a coach, he works with players on the little things that he thinks will translate to the next level: correcting bad habits carried over from juniors, playing pucks off the wall, getting the shot off quicker. But the most important lesson, he says, is teaching players how to carry themselves like a pro.
His experience as a player certainly helps him get that message across. Having spent most of his career fluctuating between the AHL and the NHL, he can relate to the players on the Americans’ roster. Taylor’s message to them: Never take an opportunity for granted.
“It’s knowing that when you get a taste of it, you don’t want to let that taste go,” said Taylor, 42. “I try and tell these guys as much as possible, once you get here, you want to stay here, and how you stay here is the hard work you put in once you get here. It doesn’t stop once you get up here, you’ve actually got to maintain to stay up and it’s hard.”
It’s clear just how much the teaching aspect of his career means to him. Even his favorite memory of the NHL, next to playing against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2000 playoffs, he says, was seeing the players he played with grow into where they are now.
While in Rochester, Taylor played alongside players who would one day shape the core of the great mid-2000’s Sabres teams: Names like Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller and Paul Gaustad.
Seeing them develop the way they did, he said, was as gratifying as anything.
“I loved it, even when Pominville and Vanek were here, and Gaustad and all those guys. You’re always trying to help them out and get to the next level,” he said. “It’s gratifying to see all those guys and how well they’ve done in the NHL, it really is. When you see guys like that, and you’ve helped them out on their way, it’s just a gratifying moment.”
Taylor says the eventual Presidents’ Trophy those players would win in 2007 came as no surprise, considering the work he saw them put on the way.
“With that lockout (in 2004-05), we had even Derek Roy at one point,”he said. “You could see them growing each year, and how much they wanted it and how much dedication and hard work they put into it. It paid off for all of them, they’re all doing well.”
Now, Taylor is trying to propel Sabres prospects like Mikhail Grigorenko and Joel Armia to that same level. He says he sees that same work ethic in his current crop as he once did in Pominville and Gaustad; he notices guys staying late after practice or spending extra time in the film room, and it’s paying off for them on the ice.
As for his own future, Taylor doesn’t necessarily have his sights set towards anywhere other than Rochester. He’s loved the area going to back to his days with the Sabres, especially given the proximity to his hometown of Stratford, Ontario, just 200 miles to the west.
For now, he’s happy to continue doing what he’s always done.
“Right now, honestly, it’s continuing to stay and developing young kids. I haven’t looked outside that box yet, I love what I’m doing right now and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”