When the NHL finally gets going, most likely on the 19th of January, you might see a small subtle difference in Taylor Hall’s game. I chatted with the 2010 first overall pick before he played his final two games in OKC, and I found out that he worked hard on improving one specific skill set and that he’d love the opportunity to kill penalties.
Gregor: You tallied 10 points in your last five games, did you finally start feeling more comfortable after being out so long with an injury?
Hall: I had a long time off hockey and a long time where I just didn’t play any games. It’s always hard to come back and play after that. It took me a little while to get used to the AHL style of play, but lately I have been feeling really good. I feel like when the NHL starts up my game will translate really well to that level. I’m getting some really good chemistry with guys like Schultz down here and more so with Eberle. We’re playing well, so it’s been a lot of fun. I think I’m ready for the NHL now.
Gregor: Tell me about MarK Arcobello, who has filled in for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, what do you like about his game?
Hall: He’s a really good centreman. He wins a fair amount of his faceoffs. The thing that I like the most about him, since he has come on the line with me and Jordan, is he hasn’t tried to change his game too much. He’s played to his strengths and therefore, it’s helped us out a lot. He needs to keep going. It’s been a lot of fun playing with him and seeing him improve as a hockey player and really seeing his confidence go up. Nuge is a great centre too, it was a lot of fun playing with him, but so far with Arco we’ve had some success and the team’s relying on us. I think he really enjoys it, he hasn’t had that kind of pressure on him for awhile. He’s having a lot of fun with us. If he can keep going, it will help me and Ebs out a lot. It’s been a nice fill in for Nuge.
Gregor: When I spoke to you last, you mentioned you wanted to become more of a leader. In OKC, being a proven NHL player, I’m guessing a lot of your teammates would look to you and think, ‘We’ve got to listen to what he has to say.’ Is it an easier place to become more of a leader, because the guys look at you as a better player?
Hall: I think so, they really expect us to produce here, and the coaches do as well. I think the players; they really kind of gravitate to what we do. You see that if we have a good start to the game and we’re doing the right things and not turning pucks over, a lot of guys seem to follow. I think that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve noticed, that how we play kind of dictates how the other guys play and we’re fine with that. It’s a good responsibility to have. As long as we’re playing good hockey, good sound hockey usually the guys will follow. We have a few other guys on the team that kind of take care of the vocal stuff in the room. As far as the one ice goes, we like being in a role where guys count on us to do the right things out there.
Gregor: Just before the Christmas break Rousell and you got into a scrap. Have guys tried to take liberties with you more often in the AHL than in the NHL?
Hall: No, it’s been pretty much the same. There have been some players who slash us a little bit more and there’s obviously a line every night that’s pretty much out there to shut us down. For the most part, people have played just really hard against us and really fair. But, Rousell was taking a few liberties and cross-checked me for no reason so just dropped the gloves with him, got a few shots in and went down before anything else could happen. I wasn’t the worse for wear by any means. It’s kind of nice to have a fight, not necessarily that I’m a fighter, but just the last time I fought I got hurt. So it’s nice not to get hurt in a fight.
Gregor: Can you talk about Justin Schultz’s game and how you see it translating to the NHL game?
Hall: There has been many defenseman that have dominated juniors and not necessarily had that translate at the pro level, yet there are countless guys that do well at the AHL and then do well at the NHL. It really does translate and especially with a guy like Justin, who is a very good skater and he moves the puck incredibly well. What I’m trying to say is that everything he does in the AHL will work in the NHL. He’s fast, he moves the puck well, he knows when to jump in and he uses his hockey IQ very well. The coaches seem to put him out a lot with us, and it helps out us out a lot having a guy back there that is really an offensive threat.
Gregor: Is there anything specific, that you worked on in the AHL that you might not have been able to work on in an NHL game?
Hall: I think my passing has been something down here that I’ve really been able to utilize. I have, I think, 20 assists in 25 games or 24 games or whatever. I feel that on the powerplay and in certain situations, I’m able to move the puck a lot better than I did at the NHL level. I’m just going to be the same player when we do start the season. I’m just going to be that guy that takes the puck to the net and tries to get a lot of shots and direct the puck towards the goal. If I can add that other element to my game, passing the puck and being a threat, I think it’ll make teams look at me a little differently. That is something I think I have improved on and am still trying to improve on.
Gregor: Jordan Eberle was named the greatest Canadian Junior player. How much has he been telling you about that? Did you guys get him any special gag gifts for that nomination?
Hall: He put a list up on our board in the room of the Top 40 guys and he highlighted his name. At the bottom, he said, “Where’s Hallsy?” Of course I wasn’t on the list because I only played one World Juniors. He made sure I knew. He’s a little bit like that; if he gets some recognition he’s going to let me know that he did. (laughs)
Gregor: Does it just add to the healthy competition between the two of you?
Hall: Ya, there’s always a competition between us. When I say he’s competitive, he’ll let you know that he’s going to try to beat you, where as I’ll probably just maybe try to sneak up on you a little bit. I’d probably say that I show a little bit more passion out on the ice because he’s a little bit more of a cerebral player. As far as hat tricks and stuff, he got a hat trick and then I came back and got one, then he got one a couple games ago, and now it’s my turn. If I don’t get one for awhile, he’ll probably let me know about it. With me and him, it’s always fun. We’re best friends and we have a lot of fun with the fact that we’re good players and we can compete with each other.
Gregor: Have you been killing penalties lately?
Hall: No, they don’t let me kill down here.
Gregor: Is that something you’d want to do at the NHL level?
Hall: Ya, that’s something for sure I’d want to do. In junior I penalty killed all the time and I was a very good penalty killer. I’d go a month without being on for a powerplay goal, but it seems like since I’ve gotten to the pro level they don’t really see me doing that, which is fine, but I’d love to do it some time.
- Ryan Jones suffered an eye injury in Minnesota last week when he got hit by an errant puck. It happened on a freak play when he was away from the play and the puck ricocheted off a skate and hit him directly in the eye. Very unfortunate. He’s already had surgery but is expected to be out three to four weeks. I’m curious to see if the Oilers start the season with 14 forwards, and keep Magnus Paajarvi up with the team, or just go with 13.
- Teemu Hartikainen was "the most consistent player we had from game-to-game," said OKC Barons’ GM Bill Scott over the phone yesterday. Hartikainen will be at camp later this week and expect him in the starting lineup.
- I’m very curious to see what line combos Ralph Krueger decides to start the season with. Krueger told me before that he believes more in duos than trios, mainly because it is hard to keep one line together for a long stretch. Best guess might be having Hartikainen with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky and Nail Yakupov start on RW with Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth. I doubt those combos last very long, but letting Yakupov stay on the RW to start season might make transition a bit easier for him.
- Ladislav Smid told me his knee feels great. He tweaked it in mid-December, but he’s been in Edmonton since before Christmas getting treatment. He’ll be ready for the season opener.
- I’m most interested to see how Ryan Whitney looks. He told me he feels great and was able to take powerskating lessons during the off-season for the first time in three years. Whitney’s play will be one of the key factors whether the Oilers make a serious push to the playoffs or not. He is extremely motivated to show people he can still play at a high level, and if he does the Oilers will be a much better team. His first pass out of the D zone is one of the best in the NHL. The Oilers spent way too much time in their own zone last year, and if he’s healthy that will change.
- I’d love to see Whitney on the ice with Yakupov. Yakupov is great at exploding out of the zone, combined with Whitney’s passing abilities I could see a few quick transition plays emerge. If Krueger plays Hall, Hemsky and Yakupov on different lines the Oilers could stretch the ice very quickly on almost any shift.
- Here is a rule change the NHL should make, but likely never will.
- Some have wondered if Hall, Eberle and Justin Schultz might be tired by the end of the season. I don’t see it being an issue at all. They will get a one-week break before training camp starts and two-weeks with no games, so even if they play all 48 games Eberle and J.Schultz will play 82 games while Hall will have suited up for 74. I don’t see fatigue being a factor for Hall or Eberle.
- The grind of games every second day might fatigue J. Schultz, but I’m not sure it’s as big a worry as some think. The AHL travel schedule is difficult in different ways. Travel days are longer, either on the bus or waiting in airports, and he’s had to play back-to-back nights almost every weekend. Only 8 of the 34 games he’s played in OKC occurred between Monday-Thursday, so he’ll play fewer back-to-back games, but he’ll play more often. Krueger is a huge believer in rest days, so I’m sure he will monitor Schultz closely.
- The Oilers have 20 home dates secured at Rexall Place. They will use those dates and then add in more in April to finish out the season. It sounds like they will likely open the 2013 season at home on Saturday January 19th. They were scheduled to play the Ducks that night, but there are rumblings they might see the Flames instead.
- Their remaining home dates are as follows:
February 2nd, 4th, 12th, 14th, 16th, 19th, 21st and 23rd.
March 15th, 17th, 19th, 23rd, 26th, 28th and 30th.
April 1st, 9th and 13th.
- The reason the Oilers are out of Rexall from Feb 23rd to March 15th is because the Brier takes over Rexall from basically February 25th to March 12th. They have to put in the ice, have practices and then the games are played March 2nd to 10th.
- On the old schedule the Oilers had an 8-game road trip during the Brier, so expect something similar when the new schedule comes out. That 8-game trip, followed by a 7-game homestand could make or break their season.