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Rookie season was eye-opening experience for Hall

by Robin Brownlee
EDMONTON -- Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers was putting together a season worthy of Calder Trophy consideration as NHL rookie of the year when he suffered a season-ending high-ankle sprain in a fight with Derek Dorsett of the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 3.

The 19-year-old Hall, a two-time Memorial Cup winner and MVP with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, and the first player selected in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, played 65 games with the Oilers. He had 22 goals and 42 points when his season ended. Hall's fight with Dorsett was the first of his NHL career.

Hall sat down with Wednesday for an exclusive interview and a look back at his rookie season. What was going through your mind when you dropped your gloves and initiated the fight with Dorsett that ultimately ended your season?

Hall: I tried to hit a guy in open ice and he came to defend him. I thought that he maybe got his gloves up a little bit when he hit me. Sometimes as a hockey player in the heat of the moment, you just kind of drop your gloves and I did.

I did OK during the fight. I didn't really throw many punches when I was actually in the fight. Everything was fine until I just got taken down. It wasn't his fault or anything. He took me down with some force and I kind of popped my ankle there a little bit.

It (stinks) to be out for the season, but I said it before: I'd do it again. It won't be the only time I plan on defending myself in my career. It's just part of the game, really. You made a reference after the fight to not wanting to always be the guy being rescued. Can you elaborate on what you meant?

Hall: It (stinks) to be that guy who guys are coming in to defend. I got that hit against (Drew) Doughty this year, which was a big hit. Fortunately, I wasn't injured during that. (Dustin) Penner and all the linemates came in there. It's really not a good feeling to be that guy who is just kind of standing there and everyone is fighting and you're not really doing anything. I was just trying to make a stand. I'm not trying to be a hero or anything like that, but certainly you have to defend yourself sometimes. What reaction, if any, did you get from your parents over the fight with Dorsett? What did they say?

Hall: They didn't say anything, you know? My dad is usually someone I talk to about the game. I call him after games sometimes and we'll just talk about what happened.

I called him when I was in the dressing room because I was sure my parents wanted to know what was going on. He just said, "Good job. That's the way it goes sometimes." You can't control that part. I've never really seen an ankle injury in a fight before. It was just kind of a freak injury. Like I said, I'd probably do it again. You will finish the season with 42 points. Did you set any personal goals at the start of the season, and are you satisfied with those numbers?

Hall: To be honest, I didn't really set any goals. You come into the NHL as a rookie and you don't know what to expect. You don't know how much time you're going to be given. You don't know the opportunities.

Certainly, for me, the opportunities were there. I had plenty of ice time. I had plenty of fun this year. You know, 42 points in 65 games or whatever is respectable. I feel that if I wouldn't have got hurt I was going to have a really good stretch drive and put up some wins and all that kind of stuff. Unfortunately, that didn't really happen. What aspect of your game improved the most during the course of the 65 games you played this season?

Hall: Before I came into the NHL, offense was what I prided myself on, being a winger and having produced points and stuff like that. I think over the course of the NHL season I really learned the ins and outs of the League.

I think I'll come into the next year really prepared, knowing what to expect on the power play and just how to beat certain systems and stuff like that. I think that just comes from watching the game, being a part of it and learning the guys around here. What aspect of your game needs the most work?

Hall: Probably defensively. There's certainly been some lapses this year where I might not have made the best decisions sometimes. As a young player, there's a lot of things you can learn.

I'm going into next year with a better feel for the game, but there's still stuff I can get better at and I'm looking forward to improving those things. Did you feel overmatched or overwhelmed by the level of competition at any time this season? If yes, how so? If not, why is that?

Hall: Probably for the first 10 or so games I was a little bit overwhelmed. It took me eight games to score my first goal. It's so hard. People don't realize how good the players are in this League. You can't really notice that until you play.

For me, the first eight or 10 games were a little bit hard and my confidence wasn't where it was at by the end of the year, but I was still having fun. Once I got through that, and learned a little bit more about how to beat the different systems and tried to be consistent every night, it started getting better. On the ice, what was the biggest eye-opener for you about being an NHL player? How about off the ice?

Hall: On the ice, just the competition. I've heard a lot of players say that the best thing about playing in the NHL is actually getting to play against these great players. That was certainly true.

Then, there's the other end of it -- you actually have to play against them. The competition was everything I expected and more. It was tough at times playing the very good teams, the Vancouvers, the Detroits. They're not easy games at all. As you went along you learned how to kind of counteract that.

Off the ice? More of what I expected. Playing in Edmonton is a little bit different than other places, but it's a lot of fun. Every fan you encounter, even though we're not in the playoffs or anything like that, really appreciates how hard we worked this year. I think they know we're going to be very good soon. Which team in the Western Conference was the toughest to play against and why?

Hall: I'd probably say Vancouver. I just think they've got everything. Obviously, the Sedins are what drives them offensively, but their defense corps, everyone is solid, everyone is really hard to play against.

Not only them. Detroit is a team that is really strong. You can see with the playoffs and the swings are just so huge. I think the West is a pretty tough conference to play in and, certainly to get a playoff spot in. Until your injury, you were considered one of the favorites for the Calder Trophy. Did you think about that as the season went along?

Hall: I probably only thought about it because people would mention it, people would ask me about it. As a rookie, you see how other rookies are doing and you see how you stack up. When you play against them, it's always interesting to see how they're progressing as a player.

I think I probably would have thought about it a lot more after the season. Now that I'm hurt, I don't think it's a possibility, so you just kind of relax bout it. If you think about it too much, it gets in your head. I didn't think about it too much. Do you have a favorite candidate for rookie of the year? If so, who gets your vote?

Hall: Honestly, even if this was off the record, I don't think I could put a name on it, you know? (Jeff) Skinner, (Logan) Couture and (Sergei) Bobrovsky. I think (Corey) Crawford in Chicago has really turned a lot of heads and done some good things.

I think it's really tight this year. When you're out and you can't really do anything about it, I think you become more of a fan of the game and you wish that these players do even better just to promote the game. When you look back at this season, what are you most proud of?

Hall: Probably just realizing that I'm an NHLer. Hopefully, I have a future in the game and I can be a very good player for this franchise, because I love playing for the Oilers.

I've had a lot of great moments. My first NHL game, my first goal, all those kinds of things were pretty great. It's stuff I'll never forget.

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