With the summer months, warm weather and late-evening sunsets winding down, Taylor Hall is ready to roll. He's back in Edmonton, prepping to build on a stunning NHL debut as the 2011-12 season approaches.
The winger's rookie season ended suddenly when he went toe-to-toe with Columbus' Derek Dorsett on Mar. 3, 2011; an ensuing ankle injury capped his year, 65 games deep. As you'd expect, Hall isn't replaying the moment any longer. Instead, he's driven to develop his lethal NHL skill-set. It's become a special concoction, highlighting speed, passion and up-tempo innovation.
"I don't think you're going to see my game change at all," Hall remarked at Perry Pearn's 3-on-3 tournament in north Edmonton. "I think you're going to see improvements. I'm not expecting a huge jump by any means, but I am expecting to be a major contributor this year."
He was a pretty big component to last year's squad, too. The dynamic 19-year-old scored 22 goals and 42 points, with a pair coming that evening vs. Columbus. It was the night he took matters into his own hands, notching a Gordie How Hat-Trick in front of 16,839 at Rexall Place.
The excitement was, however, short-lived. Hall limped to the bench, warped ankle in tow.
"Freak injuries happen," he said. "It's just part of the game. You can't let everyone stick up for you all the time. If I have to stand up for myself again, I'll do it.
"I got a lot of positive reaction from people that I talked to."
Hall spent the rest of the 2010-11 season resting and rehabbing. Once the season came to a close and he headed home to Kingston, more was required. His two-month program is now in the past, and Hall insists that he feels stronger than ever.
"It healed up really well. It almost feels like the ankle I hurt is stronger than the other one, because I've worked on it so much. I haven't had any problems."
With a strong foot and full year of NHL experience on his resume, Hall couldn't hide his enthusiasm for the coming season. The team has grown up, and several needs were addressed on Jul. 1 when General Manager Steve Tambellini made his mark on a busy Canada Day.
"I thought it was good," Hall said. "It was exactly what we needed. We needed some toughness and we needed some size on the backend. Smaller defences are the easier ones to play against in the NHL, so I like the moves that [Tambellini] made."
From a personal standpoint, Hall knows what to expect this time around. As a wide-eyed rookie in 2010, he wasn't guaranteed a spot on the roster. While no one ever is, he's better equipped to handle the NHL's pre-season nerves, understanding his role as one of the team's go-to players.
"There was a lot of uncertainty [last season]," Hall explained. "This year, I know what my role is. Being more used to the systems and to the way teams play them in the NHL is going to help a lot."
He's never been into stats, mind you.
"You can only look so much into stats. You need to think about the team and how you're helping them. Everything else will fall into place. It's the way it works."
Noting an improvement in plus-minus, Hall looks to establish a more well-rounded two-way game in 2011-12. Doing so, as Hall says, is "the sign of a good player."
"There were a lot of ups and downs last season, so I want to be consistent throughout. You want to show that you'll come to play every night and that your team can expect the same things from you.
With less than three weeks until camp opens, Hall is primed for the 82-game grind to begin.
"I didn't go on any vacations. I had a pretty simple summer," he chuckled. "I wanted to stay focused on my training and making sure I was getting ready for the year.