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Stauffer Stuff: Talking Taylor

by Bob Stauffer / Edmonton Oilers
Oilers GM Steve Tambellini (left) and Head Scout Stu MacGregor (right) watch as Taylor Hall pulls on an Oilers sweater for the first time (photo: Getty Images)

Season’s Greetings!

Christmas came early for Edmonton Oilers fans. It occurred on a hot sweaty night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles back in late June when Oilers General Manager  Steve Tambellini stepped up to the podium and announced that Taylor Hall would be the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

An announcement which I believe has dramatically changed the future course and direction of the Edmonton Oilers organization.

Despite the much-ballyhooed build-up of Taylor vs. Tyler (Seguin), I can’t say I was surprised by the pick at all.

In talking to Oilers Head Amateur Scout Stu MacGregor following the Memorial Cup, in which Hall’s Windsor Spitfires claimed their second straight Memorial Cup; I knew based upon the excitement in Stu’s voice when discussing Hall, which way he was leaning.

I played for MacGregor back in 1982-83 with the South Side Athletic Club, and led his Midget “AA” team in scoring and penalty minutes.

I remember late in that season having a brutally honest conversation with Stu about my hockey playing future…or lack thereof!

To paraphrase, he told me to go into broadcasting because I talked a good game.  He also told me I was never going to be a full-time WHL player, that I might make Junior “A” but that I was a long shot to play College hockey.

I have pretty much hated Stu ever since…LOL.

I remember asking him who off our team at that time had a chance to have a career in hockey.

All of sudden Stu’s energy and excitement level picked up and he went on for 15 minutes talking about how my centre that season, Guy Gadowsky, was a lock to play NCAA hockey and how one day he would be a great coach.

Gadowsky went on to play four seasons at Colorado College and today is the Head Coach at Princeton.

I remembered that tone in which MacGregor spoke of Gadowsky; and MacGregor had that same tone when he spoke of Taylor Hall in a sit-down interview on Oilers Lunch back in early June.

So I had a pretty good idea who the Oilers might be taking at the draft.

Taylor Hall leads the Oilers this season with 11 goals (Getty Images)
But as Taylor Hall returned to Los Angeles for the first time since the draft to play the Kings on Thursday night I had no idea that he would be this good, this fast!

Simply put, Hall has been the best skater on the ice in at least a quarter of the games the Oilers have played this season…the best skater, that is, for either team.

The scary thing is, as a couple of former NHL GM’s who are in pro scouting recently pointed out to me, Hall isn’t improving game-by-game; he is improving shift-by-shift.

With each game, Hall is becoming more explosive, picking the right time to challenge players one-on-one, making better decisions with the puck and combined with Jordan Eberle - and recently with Sam Gagner - illustrating the understated beauty of the five foot pass. He is also getting a far better handle of his defensive zone responsibilities as well.

Hall brings it. He is relentless, tough and driven.

As we saw during the early moments of the 2010 Memorial Cup in a hellacious collision with Travis Hamonic, Hall can take a licking and keep on ticking.

In Jeff Pearlmen’s outstanding book “Boys Will Be Boys” which chronicled the 1990’s Dallas Cowboys dynasty, the writer highlighted the difference between Dan Marino and Troy Aikman.

Both Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, but with different legacies: Marino with the numbers, Aikman with the Super Bowls.

When Marino got sacked he would be yelling at his offensive lineman; when Aikman got sacked he’d pick his butt up and go back to the huddle. He took the licking and kept on ticking.

When you attack with speed and passion in the manner that Hall does there are going to be collisions, Hall clearly realizes this is part of the game. Hit him hard and he comes back harder, the definition of a winner.

As part of the Oilers travelling entourage there are couple of ways to evaluate Hall.

One is obviously on the ice and the other is when the room is opened for the media.

Hall hasn’t just been better on the ice than I thought he would be, but he has also handled the media pressure that comes with being a number one pick with aplomb.

He is confident but not cocky, and remains polite and engaged despite the endless barrage of requests.

Watching Taylor deal with media reminds me a bit of a younger version of two of the real class acts in the NHL:  Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom, something which I think bodes well for the organization moving forward.

After meeting his parents, Kim and Steve, who are roughly my age, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Some hockey parents live vicariously through their kids; others let their kids be kids. The Halls are very understated, by hockey parents’ standards; something which I think has helped make Taylor who he is.

Bottom line, as we all know, Taylor Hall is a huge part of the Oilers future, along with Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Gagner to name a few.

A recent comment from Ryan Whitney on an appearance to “Oilers Lunch” illustrated that the future is looking bright for the Oilers.

Whitney thanked the fans for their on-going support, asked for patience in the short term, but also mentioned based upon his own personal exerience in Pittsburgh with the turnaround there that the Oilers could have a very good team within 18-to-24 months.

The Edmonton Oilers head into their Boxing Day match-up in Vancouver in last place in the Western Conference. It goes without saying that the Oil are a long-shot to make the playoffs but there is clearly hope for the future.

For a lot of fans there is hope that Christmas might come early again next June in Minnesota, at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Sometimes, though, at this time of the year we need to sit back and reflect on what we should be thankful for.

And on that note, suffice to say the Oilers organization’s desire to become an elite franchise is off to Hall of a start!

Bob Stauffer is the Colour Analyst on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Lunch” on the Team 1260, Monday thru Friday Noon until 2:00 PM.
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