Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Taylor Hall's development -- No. 1 with a bullett

By Larry Wigge

Taylor Hall thinks his blinding speed and competitive attitude with the puck on the wing is his calling card. Others will argue that winning is his ultimate DNA.

"It's still hockey, it's about winning battles in the offensive zone," said the Calgary, Alberta, native. 

There never was a night like this for Hall -- the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Three times in the first two periods the Edmonton Oilers dashed into the St. Louis zone on breaks or semi-breakaways and each time it was the line of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins neatly tossing the puck deep in the Blues zone.

All three resulted in goals, two by Eberle and one by Hall in the Oilers 3-0 victory over St. Louis March 26.

Hall, who had one goal and two assists, was now a point-per-game-plus player with 30 points in 29 games. He has produced two points or more in each of the last eight games.

No wonder the Oilers took Hall with the first pick overall in 2010. It was no secret why Hall was taken over Tyler Seguin in the competitive draft.

"He's such an imposing young man," Oilers GM Steve Tambellini said. "I don't think I've ever met a more focused, competitive athlete. He was the best player on a good team for a long time."

It's key to note that Hall became No. 1 overall because of his being on the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. Windsor won back-to-back Memorial Cups and Taylor was MVP of both tournaments.

At 24, Hall's play is a robust game.
The 6-1, 194-pound left wing comes up big in big games. He's hungry. He wants it. He has true grit in his game. And plays it with flash and dash.

"We felt like with Taylor, if you look at his resume of playing with the best team and being the best player, back-to-back Memorial Cup MVP's, prominent in the World Junior tournament, prominent on his own team for his entire junior career," Tambellini said. "I haven't met a more competitive player than this young man."

Said Hall, "I'd like to think I'm an exciting, fast offensive player. I'm pretty good in my own end. I love to play offense and create opportunities for my teammates."

After an overtime win, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said: "Hall always gets to the net. That's as good as I've seen Taylor Hall since I've seen him in the league."

That's a positive sign for this third-year pro. There was a move in the Hall household in 2005.

Steve Hall and Kim Strba, however, were great contributors to Taylor's development. Steve -- former receiver in the Canadian Football League (1983-86, Winnipeg and Ottawa) and former member of the Canadian bobsled team (1987-96). His mother signed her boy up in organized hockey when he was five.

"I just saw the registration in the paper," Kim said. "I remember when his dad came home, I said, 'I signed Taylor up for hockey today.' "

Steve Hall remembers another episode in Calgary, where father and son went to see the movie 'Miracle.' They got home at 10 p.m. "By 10:30, Taylor was out playing hockey."

Great going mom and dad.

There wasn't a free moment when Taylor Hall was working out on his backyard rink -- built by Steve. Hall and his friends practiced on relentlessly. He never forgot how rabid and passionate the fans were in Edmonton where the Oilers won five Stanley Cups.

"I remember my dad and I drove up from Calgary and went to the Heritage Classic in November 2003," Hall recalled. "It was such a unique experience. I remember sitting in the seats that day, trying to figure out how people were still out there drinking beer. It was so cold. Me, I was drinking hot chocolate."

Injuries have ended his season each of the first two years -- he busted an ankle in the first season and suffered a concussion and had shoulder surgery last year.

Still, he had 22 and 27 goals in sixty-some games.

The reckless style had causes some of those injuries. He dismisses those notions, but admits he needs to protect himself a little better out there.

"I've run into some bad luck," he said. "Two years in a row you start to think about things. But I just need to get a full year under my belt and that will all go away. Once I do that, the whispers will go away."

You can's teach a competitor like Hall to lose some physical battles.

"Taylor's not afraid to take the puck to the net," said Ryan Smyth, whose made a living out of crashing the crease. "He isn't afraid of charging the blue paint. That's really an asset you can't teach a player.

"He got a taste of it last year ... how hard it was, what the level of compete is in the NHL ...

Smyth took a time to pause and then went on to say. "He can be an elite player."

It's been fun to watch and see Taylor Hall develop.

And there's much more to come.

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