April 07 2014 09:34PM
Taylor Hall has had a strong end to his season. With nine points in his last four games he now has 77 points on the season and he only needs three points in his final three games to become the first Oiler since Doug Weight in 2001 to score 80 points.
Hall joined me on my radio show today to discuss his season, what parts of his game he is trying to improve, adapting to another new coach and how he views his team heading into next season.
My comments are in italics.
Jason Gregor: The biggest change I've seen in your game over the past two months is more consistent back pressure. Was that just a conscious effort from you, or did you have a conversation with anyone?
Taylor Hall: Yeah, I mean I get a lot of flak for my defensive play and I do think that I have improved on it a lot. I was saying to you the other day that I find when you do back check and when you do strip pucks from guys it puts the other team in an awkward spot; their whole team is jumping up on the play and they don’t expect you to go back at them. So, plays like that, along with playing well in your own end is a big part of playing well as a player and contributing to your team.
Hall is always trying to improve his overall game. He's taken strides. He doesn't toe drag very often, I can't recall the last time he took a big hit and he's working on his defensive play. He's done all of this, yet he still continues to produce offensively. He is their most dominant player.
Gregor: Pavel Datsyuk is one of the best players in the NHL at creating turnovers that leads to offence. Have you tried to take a page out of his book? Is that where you got it from, or was it just something that you recognized other players were doing?
Hall: Just something that I recognized. At the same time you’ve got to make sure that you’re not taking penalties because that’s an easy spot for the ref to call a penalty. So you’ve got to be clean when you’re doing it. It’s crazy that Ryan O’Reilly leads the league in takeaways and the only penalty he took was playing with a broken stick. It’s a two edged sword and you’ve got to make sure that you’re doing it right.
Gregor: Taylor I know that you’re a real fan of hockey; you look at a lot of things. Over a month ago I noticed you made a comment, “I know my Corsi numbers aren’t as good as last year”. Since then your Corsi has improved, but I don’t know if your game changed. What are your thoughts on statistics like that, because I know that you follow them?
Hall: Yeah. I mean, they’re useful. I’ve always taken the stance that good players on good teams will have good Corsis, and good teams will have good Corsis. So it’s kind of a weird thing for a player to think about when he’s in the game but if you’re playing well defensively you’re going to limit the amount of shots against and if you’re producing and attacking, well then you’re going to have a good game and Corsi. For us, we don’t put too much thought into it during a game, but it’s interesting to kind of see how you’ve been playing and where your game is heading.
Gregor: Early this season, was there any alterations in your game as far as how you attacked and entered in the offensive zone this year compared to last year?
Hall: Um, no, not
really. You have to kind of play the game as a five-man unit and at times we’ve
struggled this year breaking the puck out and then as forwards we’ve struggled
to get it back. I think lately, you just mentioned my Corsi, I think that
that’s probably more of a team thing than anything that I’m doing myself. I
think that we’ve been playing a lot better as a five man unit and that’s
I asked this because I believe Corsi can be about your linemates as much as the individual. I hadn't seen much difference in Hall's approach offensively this year, and wasn't surprised when he said he hadn't changed how he attacked the offensive zone.
FIRST LINE CONTINUITY
Gregor: [Ryan] Nugent-Hopkins, [Jordan] Eberle and you have played together before and produced, but not to this level. Is this a sign that you can say to the coach ‘I don’t care what happens, but let’s maybe keep this thing together because we can produce when we play together’?
Hall: I mean I’m not going to say that to Dallas [Eakins]. He’s the coach and he’s going to make the lines how he wants, but I think that for us we just want to really put pressure on him by playing well to keep us together as long as we can. I mean there’s going to be stretches where maybe for a couple of periods we don’t do as well, but I’m hoping that he has the confidence in us to keep us together, not only for the rest of this year but to start next year. Then hopefully we can add some pieces this summer to give us some depth on the other lines and everyone can produce.
Eakins needs to keep them together for the majority of next season. They produce and they've become much more reliable defensively. I understand the urge to have balanced scoring, but I'd keep them together next season.
Gregor: You’re only 22 years of age. Joe Sakic never made the playoffs for four years, Mario Lemieux only made it once in his first six seasons, same with Sakic actually. Today everybody is all about, ‘we need instant success right away.’ It’s frustrating to lose, but do you look back at the history of other players, because it’s very rare for guys who are drafted high to have instant success in the league, and think it will get better?
Hall: Yeah, it is tough. Everyone wants to look at Chicago and Pittsburgh’s blueprint as something that you want to strive for. And obviously that’s our goal, but it hasn’t happened right away and we just have to deal with it. This season didn’t go the right way; we had a lot of expectations, not only as a team, but also as a city and as a fan base that really didn’t go the way that wanted it to. But as far as having the pieces in place and the right people doing their jobs, I think that is there so there is nothing really else that you can do but be positive and look ahead to better times.
WHAT WENT WRONG THIS YEAR?
Gregor: What do you feel went wrong this year that as a team you have to ensure doesn’t happen next season?
Hall: I think just
our start. When we’re 4-15-2, which I think our record was at one point, it
just, you can’t help but be negative about how the season is going to turn out.
I mean, when you’re 11 games below .500 after 20 games you face a really steep hill
to climb to make the playoffs. I think that wore on everyone and maybe didn’t
let us play the game that we wanted to for a lot of the year during the middle
part. So, next year has got to be a big start for us. It doesn’t have to be a 15-6
start, but it has to be something respectable that we can stay in the race for
the whole year and make sure that we’re playing meaningful games, and then not
only meaningful games, but huge games at the end of the year to get ourselves
into the playoffs.
I liked his honesty. It is difficult to overlook a brutal start, and as much as you want to as a player it can wear you down. He could have said their goaltending stunk early on, but he didn't. It did and it cost them.
Gregor: I’m sure that you’re well aware that Doug Weight was the last Oiler to get 80 points. Was that a number you had in your head at the start of the season, or a number that, maybe 20 games ago, you strived to reach?
Hall: Yeah, I’ve
never really sat down and wrote goals down or anything, but I think that last
year I was on a 90-point pace and if I had played the entire year this year
that was a pretty good goal of mine. Obviously I’m not going to reach that,
missing seven games with my knee injury, but looking down the schedule, you
just want to try to produce as much as you can.
I don’t think that I’m being selfish in saying that getting points is a huge part of my game. I mean if I’m not getting points it’s not like I’m the best defensive forward in the league, so I have to make sure that I’m producing and when you’re playing with linemates like I’ve played with for the whole year, you’re going to produce points if you’re doing the right things.
I love this answer. If he isn't scoring this team can't win. He is working on his overall game, but he's still producing like an elite player. I wonder if all those who wanted to trade Hall early in the year realize how foolish of an idea that was. He will only get better as he matures and understands the game more.
Gregor: What small parts of your overall game have you worked on improving this year that you hope to improve next year?
Hall: Last year, Ralph Kreuger last year had us playing a much different defensive zone system, where the forwards were pretty much just in charge of their defencemen up top. And it was kind of a big adjustment for me to come down low and protect the house a lot more. Over the course of the year I think you saw improvements in that area from me, and then I had just given an interview before this with Mike Kelley of the NHL Network and he said I’m third in the league in takeaways. One part of my game I that I’ve tried to improve on is back pressure and just making sure that if I do turn over the puck, which does happen more than I would like, I just have to work to get it back.
People seem to think learning a new system every year is easy, but it isn't, especially when the new one calls for more responsibility. I put way more stock in the takeaway statistic than I do giveaways. The guys who handle the puck the most will always lead the giveaway category, but takeaways and creating turnovers is more about hustle, effort and anticipation.
Gregor: You talk about that defensive system that you had under Krueger and now Eakins. You’ve basically had a new one every year? How much of an advantage do you think it would be for your team to come to go into camp next year knowing the system?
Hall: I think that it’s huge. I know for myself personally I’m really looking forward to going into a year where you don’t have that awkward first handshake at training camp. You know what the coach is going to be like, you understand each other and most of all you understand the system that he’s going to employ. We’re going to have the majority of our team back and to have the same coach is going to be great. And I think that you saw this year with the start that we had, it wasn’t Dallas’ fault by any means, but getting used to a new coach is always a little bit tough.
his can't be overlooked. Continuity and being comfortable allows you to play better. I chuckled at his "first handshake," comment, but the more you think about it, it makes sense. You don't know the coach, he doesn't know you and even if you talk on the phone during the summer it is always different when you have to interact on a daily basis. I expect 6-9 new faces next season, so having a new coach would only make matters worse.
Gregor: What are some of the things that you will expect your teammates to know at training camp so that, you can work on new things rather than start at ground zero again?
Hall: I think just little things. Hockey players are creatures of habit, and I’m no different. Even since my minor hockey days, I’ve always become a way better player when I’m comfortable with the coach and everything that’s going on. So for our team, just knowing, like I said, what system Dallas wants, how he wants us to play, how he wants us to practice and how he wants us to train off ice is huge, especially for a young team that maybe might be a little bit unsure of what they need to do. I think that’s huge.
Gregor: Have the practices, or what the coach expects from your practices, differed from last year?
Hall: A little bit different. Dallas likes to teach more, like we do a lot of plays, we do a lot of game situations like re-groups and rims and our end that kind of thing where Ralph was put in a tough spot. It was a 48 game schedule and we played it in 96 days, so there wasn’t a whole lot of practice time to show what we needed to do, so we were just practicing two-on-ones and three-on-twos and just getting touches where Dallas is trying to employ things that we’re actually going to do in a game and I think that that you’ve seen over the course of the year that we’ve become more of a five-man unit. We’ve become more of a team on the ice and that’s probably why.
I never like Krueger being the scapegoat and Hall's description of practice only solidifies that. We'll never know what Krueger would have done with this group had he been given more of an opportunity.
WILL THINGS IMPROVE?
Gregor: As a core guy and the leader offensively, maybe even the emotional leader, have you seen enough progress in the right areas for you to be confident that next year will be better?
Hall: I’m confident that next year will be better. We’ve been put in some tough spots this year and certainly there’s been, if you look at it, there’s been times where we haven’t done well at all, but there have also been some pretty, really good areas for us and there has been games where we have shown a lot of consistency from shift to shift which really hasn’t been there in years past. So like any team that’s struggled, there has been good times, and there has been bad. But over the last 30 or 40 games, we’ve found a game that we like playing, a game we’re comfortable playing. Now, it’s all about upping that and bringing more of that next year to start the year off.
Gregor: Are you taking a step to become an emotional leader of this team? I know that you’ve calmed down on talking to the officials, you and I have talked about that, but at times with this team it seems there are a few guys that lack that fire to match the other team’s fire. Are you a guy that can get that out of your teammates?
Hall: Yeah, I mean… I have to disagree with you there. I think that everyone on our team cares and when people say that we’re not trying, or it doesn’t look like we care, we care a lot. If you were in our room and you heard what we say, and how much guys care you wouldn’t think that.
Sometimes it just
looks like that because we’re not in the right spots, or we’re trying a little
bit too hard. But over the last 30 or 40 games, I think that we’ve found a
pretty good balance of how we like to play. The record, you know, it’s been OK,
it hasn’t been great, but I think that the signs are there and how we need to
play is hard, but not only hard, we need to play smart. You see these good
teams in the league, teams like Anaheim
last night, they didn’t quit at all. They were on the verge of tying it up
during that third period, simply because they kept coming and they kept working
Hall and I will disagree on the fire of his team. I do agree that being in the wrong position, even if it is only inches will make things look worse, but at some point it is up to the players to have the fire and willingness to be in the correct position. More of Hall's teammates need to match his thirst to improve.
Gregor: I agree with you on positional play and playing smart and going to the right areas. I know it’s year four for you, but you look back now and how much maybe better of a hockey player are you as far as understanding the game in certain situations and do you think that with some young guys it has taken a while to understand how to be in the right position?
Hall: Yeah, I’m
miles ahead of where I was even at the end of my second year. Last year I took
a good step forward and using my teammates a lot more, this year I feel like
maybe even though my plus minus isn’t great, I’ve taken lot of steps defensively
and next year I hope to continue that but there is only one way to improve
yourself in the NHL. You can watch as much video as you want, you can skate 7
times a week during the summer but really those game time, those game decisions
and those plays that you do night after night in the NHL that’s how you improve
on yourself an that’s how you get used to playing in this league.
It is crazy to see how much Hall's game has matured over the past few years, but his words illustrate that even more. There is no doubt he is becoming the leader of this team. He understands what it takes to win, and if Craig MacTavish can bring in a few more experienced players Hall's chance of leading his team into meaningful games late next season will be much higher.
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