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Hall's struggles nothing new for hyped prospect

by Adam Kimelman
Taylor Hall, the first pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, is part of an exclusive club -- one that features a couple players with some pretty strong resumes.

He had just 1 point in his first seven games, and scored his first goal in his eighth. That may not sound good, but it actually puts Hall in some pretty good company. Steven Stamkos, Eric Staal, Vincent Lecavalier, Rick Nash, Joe Thornton, Chris Pronger and Owen Nolan are just some of the players who entered the NHL at 18 with a ton of hype and failed to deliver on it early, but eventually developed into solid, and some cases outstanding, NHL players.

"I don't think judging him on the first year or the second year is probably fair," Thornton told the San Jose Mercury News after playing against Hall for the first time Oct. 23. "He's going to be a great player and play a long time in this League."

That's something Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini certainly agrees with. He made the decision to take Hall with the first pick this past June, and has no regrets.

"He's doing really well," Tambellini told "He's playing in important situations, he's playing power play, he's killed some penalties. He's getting to see all different situations, which is exactly what we want.

"For me, he's progressing so well, just with gaining the confidence of our coaching staff. I know when we're a good team that he's going to be a great player in this organization."

Hall isn't there yet, though he took a giant step Thursday. He was in perfect position in front of the Columbus net midway through the third period to tip Theo Peckham's point shot behind Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason. The goal tied the game and forced a shootout the Oilers eventually lost. But Hall still was able to leave Nationwide Arena with a smile and a very special puck.

"Definitely not the prettiest goal of my life, but I'll take it for sure," Hall told reporters. "It was a big goal for our team as well. I've been waiting a long time and I've been asked about it a million times. I put a lot of pressure on myself just because it's out there. I definitely wanted to score tonight and I had a feeling before the game that this was going to be the night."

Hall also had an assist, and in one night doubled his point total from his first seven games. The slow start offensively is something new to a player who always has been one of the top scorers in whatever league he was playing in.

Thornton went through a similar adjustment process in his first NHL season. The first pick of the 1997 Entry Draft didn't score his first point until his 22nd game and finished his rookie season with just 3 goals and 7 points in 55 games as an 18-year-old rookie with the Boston Bruins. He played just 8:05 per game, including a whopping 49 seconds per game on the power play.

Lecavalier, the first pick in 1998, had 1 point in his first seven games and didn't score a goal until his eighth. Stamkos, the first pick of the 2008 Draft, scored his first point in his eighth game and his first goal in his ninth. Staal, the second pick of the 2003 Draft, had just 1 goal in his first 11 games. Nash, the first pick of the 2002 Draft, had just 1 goal and 5 points in his first 12 games.

Among the challenges Thornton faced adjusting in his rookie season: "I got bagged (bag skated) every day," Thornton told the newspaper. "Getting bagged every day and then playing two minutes a night was pretty strange coming from junior where you play 22-23 minutes a game."
Hall hasn't been treated that badly. He's sixth among the team's forwards at 16:33 per game, including 2:33 on the power play.

"I had a couple games where I've had some chances," Hall told the National Post prior to Thursday's game. "I'm getting lots of ice time, getting the opportunities and that's all you can really ask for. But I'm not too focused on what my stat line is right now. I'm just trying to come to the rink every day with a positive attitude and contribute the best I can."

He had managed to do that without putting the puck in the net. Tambellini pointed to the Oilers' Oct. 21 game against the Minnesota Wild, when Hall was voted second star of the game.
"It may be one of the few times you've ever seen a player named the second star of a hockey game and didn't get a point," said Tambellini, "and its because he took over the game in the last two periods."

Hall finished that game with a team-high 11 shot attempts -- two on net, three that were blocked and six that missed the net. But he also was a minus-1 with no points. However, Tambellini isn't concerned about Hall losing any confidence the longer he goes without scoring.

"The one thing I never really worry about with Taylor is his confidence," said Tambellini. "He's the most mature, humble, respectful young man I've met in a long time."

That's why Hall should know he's sticking in the NHL. The Oilers can return him to his junior team at any time -- if they do it before he plays his 10th game, Nov. 2, it will delay the start of his entry-level contract -- but there's no chance of that happening.

"He's going to be here all year unless somebody tells me otherwise," coach Tom Renney told the Calgary Herald. "I think he'll just get better (and) that's an assimilation we're prepared to work with."
Renney shouldn't be worried about hearing his phone ring any time soon.

"Taylor has accomplished everything he can accomplish at that level," said Tambellini. "He's won two Memorial Cups, won two Memorial Cup MVPs, played in the World Junior Championship. He's been that person for the last three years. He's so ready to play at the pro level. This is the right place for Taylor."
"He's doing really well.  He's playing in important situations, he's playing power play, he's killed some penalties. He's getting to see all different situations, which is exactly what we want." -- Steve Tambellini on Taylor Hall
H Hall is smart enough to know what happens this season won't be how he's judged. He knows how Stamkos went from his horrible start -- including two games as a healthy scratch -- to scoring 51 goals in his second season. He sees Staal and Lecavalier as Stanley Cup champions and Nash and Thornton as League award winners, team captains and Olympic gold medalists.

"You have to be patient, I know that," he told the National Post. "As long as you're getting chances, they're going to go in. I'm playing with a couple good linemates right now and we have a lot of chemistry. I know (the first goal) is going to come.

"People may judge you on your rookie season, but at the end of the day it's not about your rookie season or anything like that. It's how you do in your prime and I just want to keep getting to be a better player. It's all about the process, not what you're doing right now. I know that I'm going to be a good player along the line, so I'm trying to improve every day, trying to get better and eventually it's going to click and hopefully things take off from there."
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