Last year much was made of the evolution of Jordan Eberle and reaching NHL star status in the league. He had a career high 76 points, scored 34 goals, was an allstar and a nominee for the Lady Byng Trophy.
This year it’s Taylor Hall’s turn. Through 41 games played Hall has 45 points and 15 goals. Translated to a full NHL season, he would have 30 goals and 90 points with a few games in hand.
The 30 goals may be expected but the impressive thing this season is the assist totals. Everyone knows that Hall has the ability to be an elite goal scorer, and a 40 goal threat in the NHL, however never have his playmaking talents been mentioned.
If anything it can be argued that his goal totals are down from where they should be even though he’s averaging over a point per game. Although his 15 goals still do lead the Oilers squad. His 30 assists this season rank him in the top ten in the league, something that may have been expected from Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins, but not Hall.
The 2010 first overall pick, Hall’s ability and drive have never been questioned, the issue so far in his young career has been managing to stay healthy. In his first two seasons he scored 22 and 27 goals respectively while missing significant time to injury in both years.
There are a few reasons why Hall has managed to take the next step in his development this season.
Hall has missed just three games this season, far less than in his first two years. In both of those seasons Hall had been on his way to 30 and possibly 40 goal seasons before being derailed by injury. This year he has stayed healthy and even though it’s a shortened season he has shown what kind of consistent threat he can be when playing in every game.
Last season under Tom Renney Hall as well as linemates Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins were sheltered. They were kept out of situations where their confidence may be affected and they were generally kept out of situations in their own end if at all possible. A fine strategy for developing young superstars, but by doing that it also limits their ice time.
In 2013 Ralph Krueger has given Hall not only more ice time but increased responsibility all over the ice. Hall has responded by showing better discipline in his own end and an improving two way game.
The effort shows as he’s a +3 on the year, which in itself may not seem significant, but the Oilers are a team of primarily minus players. Only six players on the whole roster are on the plus side of the ledger.
He was also made an alternate captain, and shares the “A” with veteran Nick Schultz. A sign that the coaching staff had faith in him and his ability to be a leader for the Oilers.
SPEED, SPEED AND MORE SPEED
With Hall healthy and in top shape, it is evident how dangerous he can be on any given shift, especially on the rush. One of the fastest, and strongest, skaters in the NHL, he can be a nightmare for defenders when he comes flying down the wing. Combine that with a good shot and quick release and Hall certainly puts goaltenders on edge.
It’s not only on the rush where is so dangerous but he uses his speed all over the ice. He drives hard to the net when there is the potential of a rebound and he’s also aggressive on the forecheck. He will get on defencemen quickly and causes a lot of turnovers.
That kind of speed is rare even in the NHL and can tilt the ice in favour of the Oilers when he’s on it.
Much has been made of his aggressive style this season, with his suspension and involvement in a couple of other, let’s call them gray area situations. Many have debated whether he walks the line of aggressive vs dirty, but dirty is not a word that should be used to describe Taylor Hall.
He’s aggressive, passionate and does play with reckless abandon, at times on the verge of losing control, but a deliberately dirty player he is not. While his style comes with its drawbacks (injury, suspension), there are few on the Oilers that would tell him to change his approach. Hall will have to learn to refine his game to be less reckless but maintain his aggressiveness, hopefully something that comes with maturity.
There was another Oiler who had similar sentiments said about him, his name was Mark Messier and he worked out pretty good.
For an Oilers team that has lacked intensity and drive for long stretches this season, perhaps a few more should take a page from Hall’s playbook.
If Jordan Eberle is considered an NHL star after last season, and deservedly so, than Hall should be mentioned in the same company and would certainly stack up against the other top wingers in the league.
He’s already a star in Edmonton, an if he doesn’t have the same recognition league wide, he’s chasing it down.