Yesterday, TSN’s extremely well-connected Darren Dreger listed five players at left wing on his projected Canadian Olympic depth chart. After those five names, he listed four other players as left wings fighting for a spot on the team. That’s nine names total; Taylor Hall’s wasn’t even mentioned.
It’s pretty unlikely that Dreger just pulled those names out of thin air. Anybody who follows hockey knows that he has sources, and given the number of NHL people involved in the Hockey Canada selection process it’s a pretty good bet that he’s given us a decent look at what the management group is thinking.
Despite Hall’s well-publicized lapses in the defensive zone, there’s no doubt that he stacks up extremely well against the nine guys on Dreger’s list offensively. Even if we stack the deck against Hall – starting the clock in his rookie season and giving no weight to his improvement since then – he shows very well:
If we nix Hall’s rookie year, he’s seventh among Canadian forwards in points-per-game since 2011.
It’s more than scoring, too. Hockey’s a game of what a team creates versus what it gives up, and Hall was incredible in that regard last season. With Hall on the ice in 2012-13, the Oilers out-shot the opposition 36-32; with him on the bench those numbers fell to 23-32. That’s an insane tilt, the mark of a true difference-maker, one of the very best players in the entire world.
Is it frustrating that Hall sometimes cheats for offence, or occasionally turns the puck over while making plays? Yes, it is, because he could be an utterly dominant player and instead he’s just a very, very good one. It’s probably going to cost him an Olympic spot, even if it shouldn’t.
But it’s also an opportunity for Edmonton.
It’s a pretty good bet that Hall wants to play for Canada. He represented his country at the World Championships last summer and he played in various international tourneys as a junior. Last year, of course, was marred by Lindy Ruff’s usage of Hall but if anything that should only go toward illustrating the same point.
People aren’t going to take Hall seriously as one of the game’s greats – even if he is one – until he’s as enthusiastic about work in his own zone as he is about putting points up on the board. He’s already shown an ability to adapt his game, focusing on being more aware of hits and improving his play-making; he can make another shift to be a more responsible two-way player.
Self-preservation likely helped motivate the first change. Getting his proper due can help motivate the second. And ensuring that Hall makes that jump is one of a bunch of challenges facing Dallas Eakins.