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Tencer's Blog: Hall in focus

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
*** This entry is Part 2 of a 3 part series. Part 1 was a look at the scouting and management staff, Part 2 is a look at Taylor Hall and Part 3 on Friday will feature Tyler Seguin ***

Taylor Hall is sharing the spotlight with Tyler Seguin at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. But is he worthy of being chosen #1?
LOS ANGELES – It’s the first game of the 2010 Memorial Cup and Taylor Hall’s Windsor Spitfires are opening defense of their 2009 championship. Selected second overall in the OHL draft in 2007, Hall has led the rebuild of a Windsor team struck by both lack of success and tragedy in recent years.

Early in the game Hall is on the ice, flying around at a million miles an hour as per usual, when he ends up on the wrong end of a collision with opposing blueliner Travis Hamonic. Too eager to win the puck, Hall puts himself in a dangerous position against a bigger player and ends up stapled awkwardly into the end boards. Down on the ice, the sight gives pause to scouts and managers around the NHL. Not for long. Hall gets up, dusts himself off, and leads his team to another championship, becoming along the way the first player ever to earn back-to-back Memorial Cup MVP awards.

Taylor Hall is a desperate, reckless player. His words, not mine. Steve Tambellini’s words too. But not in a derogatory sense, not by a long shot.

On any given night, hockey is a game that is as much about will and desire as it is raw skill or ability. Hall, as a player that possesses all of the above, is a rare breed. It is the stubborn determination that wins him a lot of puck battles, gets him to a lot of nets and allows him to earn the scoring area as often as he does.

That same stubborn determination is also what gets him clocked on a reasonably regular basis. I’ve heard various scouts accuse him of playing too often with his head down, and while I’m not quite willing to accuse him of that on a regular basis I will suggest that he subjects himself to an above average share of punishment.

Taylor Hall dominated at every level he's played, including in the World Junior Championships. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
In fairness, Hall did not miss a game due to injury in three outstanding years in the OHL. That, however, does not eliminate the concern about what happens when opposing defensemen who are better, smarter and stronger than the ones in Junior get a hold of him. I have no doubt he’ll make adjustments to his game and I have no doubt that’ll happen early in his career; one hit from division rival Robyn Regehr would take care of that. However, I go back to the stubborn, desperate recklessness that made Hall so effective in Junior. If he continues to play the way he does, he’s an injury risk. If he alters his game, he’s not as effective.

That all being said, a lot of scouts will stick up for Hall by pointing out that every great player has negatives if you look hard enough and that the injury risk argument is purely speculative. His game provides the energy for his team and, on a dime, he can alter the outcome of a match all on his own.

He was surrounded by great teammates in Windsor en route to two straight championships and, to me, that’s part of the lure. Some will suggest that his statistics and achievements mean less because he had the aide of such talent around him, but I don’t see it that way. I see a player who constantly found himself standing out amongst a group of other excellent players and, to me, that’s a clear indication of how good this kid is.

Finally, on position: the kid is a winger. His assets are best utilized coming off a wing. He’s got an explosive first step and elite speed when he reaches stride, he loves to carry the puck and drive the net and he doesn’t distribute the puck as well as he’d have to as a top line center. Though I’m sure he could play center if asked, Taylor Hall at his best plays on the wing.

I can tell you that in Los Angeles right now, 24 hours away from the pick being made, it’s hard to find anyone in the hockey business that thinks the Oilers will pass on Hall. Various scouts, management types and other insiders all seem to be in agreement that tomorrow, Steve Tambellini will draft #4 at #1.

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