"I haven't been thinking about that (Entry Draft) too much. Hopefully I'll have a good year and at the end of it, I'll hopefully go as high as I can."
-- Taylor Hall
In preparation for the 2010 World Junior Championship, Hockey Canada officials took their first glimpse of players at an evaluation camp in Saskatoon, Sask., over the summer.
Willie Desjardins, who will coach a team that aims for a sixth straight gold medal, observed for five days in August and should have come away with one conclusion -- there is no debate over who will headline his team.
With that, the curtains have opened for all to witness the year of Taylor Hall
"I think he got better as the camp wore on," Desjardins told NHL.com. "He's a talented player, has all kinds of talent. ... I think he had a good camp. His second (intrasquad) game was better than his first game. He's a going to be a real good player."
A favorite to be the first pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, the Windsor Spitfires left wing was the youngest of the 44 junior-age Canadian players competing to make the roster 2010 WJC, which takes place in Saskatoon and Regina from Dec. 26, 2009 to Jan. 5, 2010. Hall is the only 2010 Entry Draft-eligible player who was invited to the camp.
The next step on his journey to make the team started Sept. 17, when the Spitfires opened the OHL season hosting the Plymouth Whalers. In his first two games, Hall had 3 goals and 5 points.
The 17-year-old Hall pledged to do whatever it takes to become a part of something he missed out on last year, as he was cut during the national squad's tryouts. Though his being left off the roster was more a result of the remarkable talent displayed by top NHL prospects like John Tavares, P.K. Subban and Cody Hodgson, the setback still weighed on Hall.
"Last year I didn't play as well as I should have (at the evaluation camp)," Hall told NHL.com. "But in the Memorial Cup I played well and started to have a little confidence in my game. I now know the things I have to do, and hopefully I can do them."
A year later, Hall not only is more mature, but he has grasped onto a new identity as a two-way forward.
"(The camp) was pretty good," Hall said. "There was a lot of ice time, and it went pretty well. I've been training hard and I'm pretty confident in my game now. I think I can be on that team. But there's a lot of offseason before that. I'm just going to take it one day at a time, one game at a time."
During the first two days of the camp, players had two-a-day practices and ended their days with a golf tournament. Over the final two days they competed in practice drills and intrasquad scrimmages. Hall didn't register a point in either game.
"For sure it felt good, and it was a good camp," Hall said. "It was good to be back in the swing of things and the every-day routine of playing hockey. The players were top-notch and they were the best players in Canada, so it was good competition."
Thriving at a high level has become routine for Hall. He finished sixth in the Ontario Hockey League last season with 90 points, and had league-highs of 16 goals and 36 points as the Spitfires won the OHL title. At the Memorial Cup, he had 2 goals and 6 assists in six games as Windsor won the title and Hall was named the event's MVP.
Since then, Hall has been preparing for the season, which will be filled with lofty expectations and immense hype.
"I just tried to be a kid," Hall said of his offseason. "I visited some buddies at their colleges and just got away from the game a little bit. I wanted to make sure I was ready to go."
Hall is aware of what lies ahead. After all, it is no secret he has the chance to extend Canada's reign at the World Junior Championship and help Windsor become the first repeat Memorial Cup champions since the Kamloops Blazers in 1994-95.
The level-headed Hall is enjoying the possibilities.
"The World Juniors is something I really want to be a part of, but the Memorial Cup is different," Hall said. "You're on a team for a while and you're building up for something. They are two different experiences, but I want to be a part of them both."
Once he crosses those events off his list, there is one more step that would complete his season -- become a high draft pick in June.
"I haven't been thinking about that too much," Hall said. "Hopefully I'll have a good year and at the end of it, I'll hopefully go as high as I can (in the draft)."
Author: Brian Fitzsimmons | NHL.com Correspondent