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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Give the Devil his due – Taylor Hall is arriving

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Taylor Hall’s recent point scoring streak of 20 games opened a lot of eyes around the NHL. The question is, has he opened them enough to get into the Hart Memorial Trophy conversation? Either way, from humble and unspectacular pro beginnings, Hall’s recent surge is worthy of that kind of attention.
Expectations were rightfully high when the Edmonton Oilers selected Calgary born Taylor Strba Hall with the first pick in the 2010 NHL draft. Although there was some debate about whether he or number two pick Tyler Seguin (to the Boston Bruins) would go first, it was pretty much a consensus that the Oilers landed a franchise-changing player.
The team had missed the playoffs four straight years before drafting Hall, but things seemed certain to change. Surprisingly, they did not. The drought continued in all six of his seasons in Edmonton.  He didn’t play bad enough to be considered a bust but nobody saw this coming and his departure seemed imminent.
On June 29, 2016, Hall was traded to the New Jersey Devils. The Devils had also missed the playoffs four consecutive years before acquiring Hall. As a quirky side note, both Edmonton and New Jersey missed the playoffs, then lost in the Stanley Cup finals and then missed the playoffs four straight years, before acquiring the talented left wing. But I digress.
So what went so wrong in Edmonton? By the numbers, Hall was steady but never reached greatness. He averaged 63.5 games in his six seasons with 22 goals and 32.7 assists. The problem was the big zero in playoff games.
It was further compounded by expectations that, looking back, may have been unreasonable. The five forwards who were selected number one prior to Hall were Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares. Those are tough acts to follow. The Oilers then had the number one pick the next two years, adding Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. With this influx of talent, it was easy to overhype this team. Unfortunately, none of the kids panned out to an elite level and it was Hall who took the fall.
The theme continued in Jersey where he had a solid season of 20 goals and 33 assists, while missing another playoff season. Now in year two as a Devil, the 26-year-old veteran may finally be hitting his stride.  His play has been a key ingredient as the Devils battle toward what seems like a certain playoff berth. They just added the speedy Michael Grabner in a trade with the New York Rangers to bolster their scoring. It’s been a while since the Devils were buyers at the trade deadline and they have Taylor Hall to thank.
Is league MVP a little too lofty at this point?  Perhaps, but depending how he finishes, it certainly is not an unreasonable notion. Aside from his point scoring streak, which is a testimony to his consistency, he is headed for career highs in both goals and assists.  At 26 and 38 respectively, these are not Nikita Kucherov kinds of numbers, but the value he brings to this Devil team cannot be measured by stats alone. When he does not score a point, the Devils have won 4 out of 15 games (4-7-4). In the five games he missed, they went 1-3-1. Their 26-12-3 record when he does score is remarkable.
Elite players carry teams in this manner and he is clearly the driving force behind the resurgent Devils. He appears to be headed toward his first playoff experience. This is where great players can be humbled or where legends can be made. Chances are that Hall will fall somewhere in between, but for a classy guy who has quietly paid his dues, I expect the long awaited spotlight to shine brightly on him. It is well deserved and may well be worth the wait.

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