In a season where the Edmonton Oilers went off the rails especially early, it was difficult to find something to cheer about. On most nights, however, there was one reason to yell and scream. And his name was Taylor Hall.
The Oilers’ best player since Doug Weight, Hall is living up to his first overall draft status and then some. Best of all, he is personally learning to be a better two-way player, while still increasing his offensive output. With 80 points and a seventh best record for scoring in the NHL, one can only imagine what he will be capable of with improved line mates and defencemen. In other words, he is Dallas Eakins dream boy.
So what should we expect out of Taylor this year? Even better defensive play. In the latter third of this season, the Oilers played a gang sight better, and a large part of that can be chalked up to the team gaining a more thorough understanding of the systems being implemented by their new coach, the fourth in a row year by year.
Eakins is back this fall, sparing what Hall called the “awkward handshake” at training camp with a new coach. Hall and his top six can hit the ground running, a refreshing change. Naturally, Eakins has to galvanize his forwards in the right way, employing proper line combos and fostering good chemistry. Hall will lead the charge.
Hall, as anyone who has watched him play can attest to, is fast and explosive. He is less a fancy dangler in the way that Ales Hemsky was, and more of a drive-the-net style forward, who uses his speed, but not so much finesse.
As has been discussed ad naseum in many Oilers blogs, the team needs size. Indeed, should the Oilers bring in a bruising, talented second line center and a power forward to cut a swath through opposing players, Hall will find himself with open ice. Even a casual observer knows that if Hall gets open ice, he often finds open twine under the goalie’s armpit too.
Hall’s possession numbers faltered a bit this year, but there is little evidence to suggest that points to a devolution in his play. Tyler Dellow, of MC79.com, wrote last March in his article “Taylor Hall, Fancy-statist”:
I’m inclined to think that there has been some sort of negative change in the scoring chances when he’s on the ice. There’s a point that I possibly haven’t made clear enough: I’ve written a lot about it being a problem when Hall’s on the ice. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a problem with Hall – it could be something else entirely that’s resulting in the puck being on his stick with an opportunity to make a play less often. I don’t think that this is the issue but if, for example, you stuck Hall with four guys like me, his Corsi% would crater but it would be nothing to do with him.
As it is with much of the Oilers line up, there are often a few talented players backed up by a crew that is either not competent enough or makes too many errors, leading to the statistical drag that Hall endured this year. Getting 20% less scoring chances, Hall still ended up with more points than ever, despite the drop in chances. Additionally, Hall potted more assists than he ever has, pointing to an improved ability to see the play and add to the offensive opportunities on his line. He continues to add dimensions to his play. Should Hall ever become a truly complete player, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch for him to be a perennial 90 point player, especially if he avoids injury.
OIL ON WHYTE OUTLOOK: Barring injury or getting sucked up in a tornado while visiting OKC, Hall ought to grow in every catagory this year. Expect boxcars along these lines: 35-50-85.