Taylor Hall is set to take that next step and join the league’s elite
After being the key cog on one of the greatest major junior dynasties in history, the time is now for Taylor Hall to become his franchise's alpha dog at the NHL level as well. The still-21-year-old-stud has been silently yet rapidly refining his overall game, allowing for boosted production levels. Despite two lengthy interruptions in his three-year-career due to shoulder surgery and a lockout, Taylor keeps discovering ways to better harness his God-given abilities and evolving as a pro.
Hall produced at a 0.64 PPG level and held a minus-9 plus/minus rating in his 2010-11 rookie campaign. In two short years since, he's already ballooned up those figures to a 1.11 PPG clip, coupled with a plus-5 rating. Ignoring that these much improved numbers were compiled in a truncated season, it’s interesting to note that Steven Stamkos' third year PPG (1.09) fell short of Hall's third year rate. However, Stamkos received much more fanfare for his efforts due to the higher goal totals, much of which could be attributed to linemate Martin St. Louis.
Taylor improved on his rookie season scoring on a per-game basis by 26% in his sophomore campaign; notching 11 more points in four fewer games. This past season, he one-upped that, increasing his production by a further 22%, or an astonishing 42% total from year one to year three! The much ballyhooed 'fourth year breakout' theory, if realized, may well see another hike; one that would likely pit him among the top half dozen performers in the league.
There is a strong indication that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may be forced to start the year on the shelf. Therefore, Hall will need to adapt, temporarily, without his top line pivot, after the two had shared the ice for the majority of last season (as seen below).
Ryan-Nugent Hopkins 2013 Most Frequent Linemates ~ Via Frozen Pools
In fact, important for poolies to note is that Hall has recently stated he'd be a natural candidate to take over Ryan's first line center role until he's fit to return to the fold. Provided RNH’s recovery timeframe matches that of Hall's the previous year from the same surgery, that may well equate to five weeks or 12-18 games. That would be more than enough time for Hall to receive (likely) dual eligibility status (C/LW), a key first round consideration on draft day for single season formats.
He is one of many kids with sky-is-the-limit potential in Edmonton. However, Taylor is the only one of the bunch who has ever been the catalyst to propel his team to the summit of the game for his age group, pre-NHL. Neither of Nail Yakupov(Sarnia), Jordan Eberle(Regina) or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins(Red Deer) has experienced winning at an advanced level, save for best on best international competitions. Granted, opportunity does help dictate the story in many cases, but Hall's good fortune to be surrounded with the right pieces allowed him to flourish in spectacular fashion. He was thus able to take with him leadership intangibles which will aid him in succeeding at the next level.
Speaking of next level, this undoubtedly is the year for which Edmonton should now be expected to make their long-awaited appearance in the Lord Stanley's playoffs. To put it into perspective, the Pittsburgh Penguin's similarly built team had already made the playoffs by year three (after Sidney Crosby joined), advanced to the Cup Final in year four, while winning it all by the fifth season.
Are the two teams truly comparable? To a certain degree yes, though nobody will argue the merits of Crosby’s and Evgeni Malkin's dynamism versus any other duo in the world. Although, the sheer number of high lottery picks will continue to intensify the expectations on Hall, Yakupov and co. moving forward. If Hall's upward trajectory continues across the board, that'll be a major boon for Oiler Nation. I expect him to really step it up this year and start separating himself from his fellow Oiler running mates.
More importantly though, is his awareness improvements that he focused on in the latter part of last season, allowing him to be a more effective player with greater vision. Courtesy of Oilers Now Radio show, in an interview with Hall in recent weeks, he provided the following quote. (Full interview can be listened to here)
"I think I made a subtle change in my game last year with the injuries that I had. I wanted to be a smarter player and just a player that is a just a little more heads-up. In doing so, I found that I saw more of the game. When I'm stickhandling up the ice I made sure to have my head to see where all my players were, not only to make passes for them but to make sure that I wasn't going to get hit or put myself in a bad position. I think it really helped me see the ice a lot better."
His increased peripheral vision enabled him to bump up his assist total from 26 to 34 last year, despite playing in 16 fewer games than in 2011-2012. Also, look for his blocked shots total to stay lower once again, after showing less of a willingness to put his body in front of a slapper last year. Some of the gruesome injuries he's suffered from in his brief NHL career would definitely help explain him being a little more averse to dropping in front of the rubber.
Many of the Oiler gems will be vying for spots on their national teams for the Olympics, with Hall leading the way. In fact, Hall's takeoff abilities and speed capacity would certainly bode well on the international surface. You can count on (Team Canada GM) Steve Yzerman to take note of his creativity and puck protection abilities while in full stride.
~~ Follow Anthony Lancione on Twitter @anthisdaman ~~
Recently from Wild West: