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Hall and Top Line Putting up Numbers

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers’ top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle boasts well-known offensive talents and the team’s terrific trio has played lights out as of late, being reunited and playing rejuvenated.

Their recent streak was highlighted and sparked by a 10-point night on April 1, against the San Jose Sharks. That night was no April Fools joke as those three have combined for 22 points (7-15-22) in their last four games together.

“It was good, it was fun,” Hall said. “As a team, we didn’t win all four by any means but it was all competitive hockey and it was all hockey that we’re proud of playing so we need to keep that up.”

Eberle, who has three goals and five assists in his last four games, likes the production his line has had during their last short stretch of games.

“We’ve played together quite a bit,” he said. “I think when we get together, we’ve done it enough that we know where each other will be. We get excited to play with each other and we really want to be the offensive threat out there. The last little bit here has gone good. I’ve played with them where we’ve had stretches where it hasn’t gone good too. We just have to find that way to contribute every night and be that top line that we know we can be.”

The Oilers would have loved to have kept their big three together this entire season but whether it be due to poor play, lack of results, injuries or a need to supplement their lineup, Head Coach Dallas Eakins and the coaching staff has moved those players around. But now, the boys have got the band back together.

Dallas Eakins talks with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the bench. Photo provided by Getty Images.

“We committed to (that line) lots of different times this season and sometimes it was their play or an individual’s play where we thought we had to mix it up or it might have been trying to supplement the rest of our lineup to get secondary scoring,” Eakins said. “As of late, they’ve been great. It’ll be obviously a line we’ll always look at depending on our personnel moving forward.”

If it were up to those players, they may never change their linemates, but they understand the necessity when the team is struggling.

“We’ve had games where we’ve played really well, we’ve had games where we’ve been shut down but yeah, when you get together with them and we haven’t played that much together this year, we really want to stay together,” Eberle said. “That’s my feeling anyways and I know that when we are playing together, we’re contributing. Just trying not to give (the coaches) a reason to split it up.

“When you’re on a team that’s been struggling and losing, it’s often the case that lines are switching, guys are playing with different guys so you look at a team like Boston, they’re a winning team and I don’t they’ve switched many of their lines throughout the year. It makes it easier for a coach when we’re winning hockey games to leave stuff the same so that’s probably a big reason why we have (stayed together).”

For those three, sticking together happens when you're providing production. It’s something that even through a trying season for the team, they’ve managed to do.

Nugent-Hopkins added to his career high in points on Sunday night with an assist against the Ducks after breaking his previous personal best of 52 on April 2, in Anaheim against the same opponent. He now has 18 goals (tied for most in career) and career highs in assists (36) and points (54) in 77 games this season.

Photo Provided by Getty Images.

Eberle has eclipsed the 60-point total for just the second time in his career (76 in 2011-12 season), with 64 (27-37-64) in 77 games.

However, it is Taylor Hall who has had the most impressive season of the three. In 72 games, Hall has 27 goals and 50 assists for 77 points which puts him currently at seventh in the NHL in scoring.

“He’s been lights out,” Eberle said. “I think when he’s going, our team’s going. He creates so much with his speed and his drive to the net that much of the time it opens up space for Nuge and I. I think that’s a big reason why this line works and for him going.”

Hall was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week on Monday by leading all players with seven assists and nine points while scoring in four consecutive games to help the Oilers earn two wins.

Hall’s production puts him amongst of some of the NHL’s elite but he’s quick to give credit to Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins for the help.

“I’m up there and it’s good to see,” Hall said. “Playing with good players seems to be the key to getting up there. With the top six on our team, there’s always good players to play with and always positions to put up points and whether you like it or not, in this day and age, you need to get points to be recognized and lately they’ve been going in.”

But Eberle sees the individual improvement in Hall from when he was drafted first overall in 2010 until now.

“He definitely has,” Eberle said. “Coming in as a 19-year-old kid, obviously he’s going to get better and he’s going to grow. He’s really… flourished the last couple of years as far as his offensive role but I think defensively he’s gotten better. I think those two go hand-in-hand. When you have the puck more, you’re going to obviously play a lot more in their end and create a lot more chances. He’s been doing that.”

Hall agrees that he’s put some work in on the defensive side of his game and that along with making the right decisions has led to the top line’s production.

“I’ve tried to round out my game and try to be a complete player,” Hall said. “The defensive part of that game is coming along. Like I said, when you’re playing with players like that, you’ve just got to make the right play at the right time whether it’s a pass or a shot or a sauce pass over two guys’ sticks, you just have to make that play. Playing with those players has been a lot of fun for the last four games and they’re a big reason why we’ve been scoring some goals.”

Hall was asked on Monday where he sees his ceiling. With where he is in the scoring standings, Hall still looks up at players like Corey Perry (79 points), Tyler Seguin (82), Ryan Getzlaf (85) and the league’s leader Sidney Crosby (102). But those players have the benefit of playing on better teams. Teams like Anaheim, Dallas and Pittsburgh are either in the playoff hunt or locked into a spot.

Imagine where Hall, Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins could be once the Oilers begin winning and climbing the standings.

“I’m not really sure,” Hall said. “As we start growing as a team a lot more and as we start growing up the standings and getting higher, I think you’re going to see guys reach plateaus that you’ve never seen before and I’m probably one of those guys. You look at teams like Anaheim and Pittsburgh and Chicago and St. Louis, all of these teams, you see guys having personal best years and years you’ve never seen from them before. That’s because they’re on a good team, they’re doing the right things.”

Hall says the Oilers’ top line will be no different once the team success starts coming.

“When we get to that point as a team, you’re going to see that. But until then, it’s going to be a lot of growing pains and a lot of questioning of whether a player is playing as well as he can. I’ve had a pretty good year but our team really hasn’t so until our team has a good year, I don’t think you’re really going to see the best we have to offer.”

The Oilers aren’t to that point yet, but Hall’s progress and individual success has been a beacon of hope for the team as they look forward to the near future.

“When you supplement top players with better players, not only does that better player benefit but everyone benefits,” Eakins said. “We’re encouraged and hopeful that Taylor will keep moving forward with his game. He’s having an excellent season individually with his point production, I have so much more trust in him in all situations now and he’s going to continue to grow as he gets more experience. He’s been one of the shining lights, I guess, through a very difficult year and I just think he’s taking the necessary steps to be a real key role in this team having success in the future.”

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