No less an authority than the TSN panel has predicted that the Edmonton Oilers best player, Taylor Hall, will be sitting at home watching the Olympic games rather than representing Canada in Sochi.
Here’s why they’re wrong.
TSN’s left wing depth chart consists of Chris Kunitz, Rick Nash, converted centre Logan Couture, and Patrick Sharp. With all due respect to those four, there’s simply no way that Hall shouldn’t be part of that group.
Chris Kunitz bafflingly gets the top left wing position on the team. The only possible defence of that ranking is that he has familiarity playing with Sidney Crosby, and it’s a terrible defence because presumably it isn’t difficult to look good playing on a line with the best player in the world. Kunitz has spent approximately 75% of his even-strength the last three years centered by either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin; Taylor Hall has done it with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner and Shawn Horcoff, players that aren’t exactly comparable. Despite being in the prime of his career and on a line with two of hockey’s five best players, somehow Kunitz has a worse point-per-game rate over the last three seasons than Hall, who was breaking into the league and playing in a tougher conference to boot. In three previous seasons Kunitz has hovered around a 60-point pace, so this last year was likely a one-off and if his scoring drops back to his established level nobody will be talking about him as an Olympian.
Rick Nash is likely a better choice for the top left wing position than Chris Kunitz. The 29 year-old is a veteran of international play, having represented Canada at two Olympic games, four World Championships and a World Junior tournament. Interestingly, like Kunitz, his points-per-game rate is actually less than Hall’s over the last three seasons, but he is more of a goal-scorer and arguably more of a complete player at this point in time.
Logan Couture, the converted centre, is another player who finds himself falling just short of Hall’s point-per-game pace over the last three seasons. He has an advantage in that he’s perceived as a better positional defender than Hall but a disadvantage in being a lesser skater and having less experience internationally (Couture has represented Canada only at the under-18’s back in 2006-07). Couture is an exceptional player – and a Corsi monster – but he both doesn’t tilt the ice the way Hall does in terms of out-shooting the opposition and he doesn’t come close to having the same level of offensive dynamism that Hall does. On a team loaded to the gills with converted centres, Couture’s positional strengths defensively shouldn’t trump Hall’s superior ability to drive results in his natural position.
Patrick Sharp should, barring a major drop-off, be on this team. A versatile skater who can play any position, he is both a dynamic offensive player and a skilled defensive forward. He’s coming off a tough year – he really struggled on a line with Dave Bolland for half the season, though he was fine with other centres – but he’s been excellent in the past and shouldn’t be a controversial choice.
Taylor Hall is coming off a remarkable season, even by Canadian Olympic team standards. No Canadian player in the lower-scoring Western Conference put up more points than Hall; in terms of even-strength scoring per hour only Jonathan Toews (3.19 PTS/60) had a better rate than Hall (3.15 PTS/60) in the West. Hall finished eighth overall in Relative Corsi league-wide last season and was 20th overall the year before that. In his first three seasons in the league, he’s clear of every Canadian left wing other than 41 year-old Ray Whitney in terms of points-per-game, despite the fact that he’s just started his career and has played for a pretty awful team.
Hall is a special player. He’s Canada’s best scoring left wing at the age of 21 despite playing in the West and there’s a pretty decent case that no other Canadian left wing drives out-shooting the way he does when he’s on the ice. He took a leap forward last year and was the best left wing in the NHL, despite Chris Kunitz’s nod as first-team All-Star.
Hall will, barring injury, be a fixture on future Canadian Olympic teams but he’s good enough to play for them right now, and if he picks up where he left off the team’s management will have no choice but to include him.
Recently around the Nation Network
At Jets Nation, Kevin McCartney steps in from his vacation to imagine what the team’s lines might look like if Mark Scheifele is ready to go at training camp:
Despite the many claims (even by me) that Jokinen and Schiefele will be auditioning for the same job of 2C, we can imagine this team organized in such a way as to reveal a hole at centre. Moving Tangradi outside the top-9, Frolik could take his LW role – if only the team had another centre. Does Eric O’Dell get a look for a soft-minutes assignment there? Is that Nic Petan’s job down the line? What does the team do when Grabovski is a free agent again next year?
Click the link above to read more (includingthe lines Mccartney settled on), or check out some of my recent stuff: