He is first and foremost a hockey player, so it comes as no surprise Taylor Hall
can't wait to lace his skates and pull on an Edmonton Oilers
jersey before the puck drops against the Vancouver Canucks
in Penticton Sunday.
After months of being poked and prodded, interviewed and lauded in the wake of leading the Windsor Spitfires to a second straight Memorial Cup title, then being selected first by the Oilers at the 2010 Entry Draft, Hall will be back in his element, along with 28 other Edmonton prospects, at the Canucks' Young Stars Tournament.
And while there will be no respite from the hype, scrutiny and expectations of Oilers fans that come with it, Hall will relish the opportunity to show people what all the fuss has been about when he steps on the ice.
That's what Hall does.
"This is the season of my life," Hall said. "I've never gone through this. I've never been at an NHL camp. I think what you have to do is take it one step at a time and focus on the rookie camp. That's going to be a great experience. It'll be a good prelude to the main camp. I really just want to get my game in order, make sure I'm doing all the right things and then, at main camp, try to make a splash."
To say the months since Windsor repeated as Memorial Cup champion in May -- Hall did likewise as MVP -- have been a whirlwind for the 18-year-old left wing is to understate. With the NHL Scouting Combine and a trip to Edmonton leading up to June 25, when Oilers GM Steve Tambellini called Hall's name at the Staples Center, and a non-stop barrage of interviews and appearances since, there haven't been enough hours in the day. He had dinner at the home of billionaire Oilers owner Daryl Katz. After the draft, Hall returned to Edmonton for a development camp with fellow blue-chip prospects Jordan Eberle
and Magnus Paajarvi
"Certainly, it's been a long two years," Hall said. "At that development camp, I was worn out. I hadn't even trained yet or anything. One of the things you have to get good at is recharging, taking time away from the game. I did that this summer. That was one of my goals -- work out hard when I should, but also get my battery recharged and come into this season with a fresh mind and that passion for the game."
Having accomplished that with two weeks laying low and training in Calgary in early August, there was the formality of signing a three-year, entry-level contract, one that could pay Hall the NHL's allowable rookie maximum of $3.75 million a season.
That's a full plate for any teenager, especially one hailed by fans as the new face of a franchise that's won five Stanley Cups but hasn't paraded on Jasper Avenue since 1990, before Hall was born.
"Imagine the year he put in," Oilers coach Tom Renney said. "Actually, consecutive years. To come through it the way he did, handling himself so well, says a lot about him. Having to bring your 'A' game every single place you go for what was, really, two years, being a champion for two years at that level, is pretty special. On top of that, he had all the draft stuff and coming here for the development camp and what-not.
"I think he's had an opportunity now to decompress and get his head around what this is going to take. I have no doubt he's going to come in here in terrific shape physically and mentally and be ready to go."
Hall was back in Edmonton last week. He made an appearance with Paajarvi and Eberle at a lottery home, where a horde of TV camera crews and reporters packed the place to see Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe
present Hall with jersey No. 4.
Then it was time for medicals Friday in preparation for the trip to Penticton and a five-team tournament at the South Okanagan Events Centre that will include prospects from Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Anaheim and San Jose.
All eyes will be on Hall when the Oilers, their roster wide open following the departure of veterans like captain Ethan Moreau
, Steve Staios
, Fernando Pisani
, Mike Comrie
, Robert Nilsson
and Patrick O'Sullivan
after a 30th-place finish, open main camp Sept. 17.
"I don't expect him, quite honestly, to be anything close to what he was in the Memorial Cup or in his draft year," Renney said of his expectations of Hall in Penticton. "I'm sure we'll see flashes of that, but it's not the coming-out party that's important. At the end of the day it's the ending-up party that matters. That takes time.
"I'm going to be very patient. I have no expectations other than I expect him to be here in terrific shape and have a terrific attitude. I expect him to be one of those guys who can take instruction and follow a game plan. That's where I leave it. It'll sort itself out as we go through the process."
After three seasons with Windsor, Hall knows the rookie tournament is a big step. Main camp and the preseason represent another. Having dealt with the glare of the spotlight for so long, he measures his words carefully, but his willingness to get started is obvious.
"I know there's going to be a lot of good players, a lot of veterans who've been through numerous NHL camps," Hall said. "If I can fit in with the guys from the exhibition games on, play well and do everything I can to be on that team, I can set some goals for myself."
As something of a hockey historian, Hall knows what waits in Edmonton, where, even during four-straight seasons out of the playoffs, there are more fans in the rink for skills competitions and preseason games than in some NHL buildings during the regular season.
He's seen the banners inside Rexall Place and the Stanley Cup replicas in the dressing room. Hall posed last week with a couple who bid $30,000 for his jersey at a golf tournament.
Expectations? Hall is fine with all of it. After all, he was talking about winning a Stanley Cup not long after he pulled on Edmonton colors for the first time.
"That's what I came to the NHL for," Hall said. "That's what I've been competing for ever since I was a little kid on a backyard rink, to win a Stanley Cup. I know it's not going to happen right away, but winning a Stanley Cup at some point is the goal for this franchise. If anybody's goal is otherwise, I don't think they have the right mindset."