The fearlessness Taylor Hall shows on the ice is part of what makes him a very special player and favourite with fans of the Edmonton Oilers. It’s also a trait that could shorten his shelf-life on the NHL marquee.
While discretion isn’t as sexy a quality as the no-guts-no-glory style that has Hall out of the line-up with an injured left shoulder after taking a hellacious hit from Ryan Wilson of the Colorado Avalanche Saturday, it’s nonetheless an attribute he’d best add to his game. And the sooner the better.
Hall got starched by Wilson while hustling for a loose puck in the corner on a stiff, but clean hit. He was injured when he hit the boards awkwardly while trying to brace for the impact. Hall left for medical attention, returned and then was done for the balance of the night after a well-placed cross-check from Kyle Quincey of the Avs. From Denver to MRI City.
It’s not the first time. It won’t be the last.
HE GETS AFTER IT
We’ve seen this movie before with Hall, no? Before the Oilers even got a crack at Hall at the podium, there was the potentially neck-breaking hit he took from Travis Hamonic of the Brandon Wheat Kings in pursuit of a puck while he was still a member of the Windsor Spitfires.
Drew Doughty lowered the boom along the boards in Los Angeles last season when Hall tried to beat him wide, starting a hey-rube. Then, there was the scrap with hard-nosed Derek Dorsett of Columbus last season in his first NHL fight, a take-no-crap decision to stick up for himself that ended his season with a sprained ankle.
Saturday, it was Wilson, a player Hall ran up against more than once as a junior – somebody Hall, in hindsight, admitted he knew might try to lay him out. Having the book on Wilson didn’t stop Hall for going for it. On the same road trip, you might recall, Hall went headlong into the goalpost in Chicago while charging for the net. He escaped injury.
Like I said, it’s that kind of reckless abandon and fearlessness that makes Hall the player he is. It pulls fans out of their seats. It sells tickets and jerseys. It creates a buzz. In part, at least, it’s that jam and gusto that got Hall drafted No. 1 overall in 2010 by the Oilers after he won a second Memorial Cup with Windsor and his second MVP award. Game-breaker. Difference-maker. Big-time brass.
That damn-the-torpedoes bit is also what had some observers, myself included, wondering if Hall might have to reel the swashbuckling in just a bit in the name of self-preservation at the NHL level. I’d suggest that, 24 games into his sophomore season, it’s obvious he does.
A MIDDLE GROUND
Over at the Cult of Hockey today, David Staples is suggesting Hall needs to incorporate a little nastiness into his game. You know, a well-placed elbow or length of shaft here and there to buy some room and make opponents think twice about taking runs at him. Mark Messier stuff. I’m all for that.
I’d also suggest Hall exhibit a little more discretion. As much as I hate to use the term because it generally has a negative connotation, Hall needs to pick his spots more often. It can’t be balls-out in every race for loose pucks and open ice, every showdown with a defenseman. That’s easier said than done of course, given playing that way seems part of Hall’s DNA.
Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about turning Hall into a perimeter player or a snow-throwing Patrick O’Sullivan clone. Nobody wants that. While I see nothing wrong with Hall dropping his gloves now and again or delivering, as Staples says, a well-placed elbow or two-hander, that’s not enough.
Simply put, the bottom line for me is that if Hall is going to put himself in harm’s way, he’s got to know who and what he’s up against, rather than fearlessly charging in every time. Size up the situation. Take a peek. Be aware. Play the odds. I know, that’s not as catchy as that No Fear thing, but it’s smart.
It goes without saying fans of the Oilers don’t want to see the edge taken off Hall, to see him throttle it back too much in the name of playing it safe. At the same time, I’m guessing they do want to see him wearing No. 4 for this franchise for as long as possible. That’s not a likely outcome the way he plays the game now.
There is a middle ground between burning out and fading away. Hall needs to find it.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.