Before I went left to Banff for the inaugural Hockey Alberta Summit, Taylor Hall made a surprise appearance on my radio show. I was on location, and Meg Storms saw Hall roaming the halls of the TEAM 1260 studio. Hall and the pun-master Gene Principe were in the building voicing a commercial, so Storms asked/told Hall to stop in for a quick chat.
Hall obliged/listened and we had an impromptu chat. It was the first time I’ve had a guest in studio, while I was out on location.
Over the past three seasons I’ve had the opportunity to interview Hall one-on-one, and I feel he’s become much more insightful over the years. That is to be expected, because he’s getting older, but I always sense more and more that he really wants to take a leading role in turning the Oilers around. He’s become somewhat of an "old soul" despite being so young.
It is interesting to watch players develop on and off the ice, and I always look forward to chatting with Hall.
Gregor: I read in Terry Jones’ article this week that your new head coach, Dallas Eakins, sent out a letter of requirements and expectations to the players. What were your initial reactions when you read it, did it get you more excited for the season?
Hall: To be honest I don’t know what that is. I haven’t seen what that that list is, but I have talked to Dallas on a number of occasions. He does seem demanding, but I think that he’s reasonable at the same time. I think that he’s going to expect a lot out of us in hockey and in our fitness levels, but I think that he’s going to be reasonable.
I think that he understands that we’re a team on the rise and that we’re going to have some bumps in the road, but I think that he’s excited to take on the challenge.
Gregor: Before you go to Oiler camp, you get to go to the Olympic orientation camp. There are no-ice sessions, which is unfortunate for you, because I’m sure you would have liked to skate with the best players in Canada, but regardless, what are your expectations heading into camp.
Hall: I’m excited. I wish that we were on the ice, like you said. It would be great to partake in the ice sessions with some of the best players in the world. It’s too bad that can’t happen. So we’ll just go there, and I think that it’s just more so that we can learn what Sochi is like and understand some of the drug protocols and all of that kind of stuff; just kind of housekeeping issues.
But, also to get everyone together and maybe get to know each other a bit will be good. I’m excited, I hope that I’ll have a pretty good start to the year, I think that I will. I’ve prepared really well this season and I just have to put myself in a good spot to be on that team.
I spoke with Ken Hitchcock in Banff at the Hockey Alberta Summit. He told me that he and Babcock did a mock list, and their first 12 guys were the exact same. However, in their final 13 players, they had 8 different guys on their team. Hitch said that all the players in camp will have a legitimate shot of making the team. Hall is one of them, and he’ll be in the mix, as long as he has a good start to the season.
IMPROVING HIS GAME
Gregor: How do you improve on last season, because points-wise it will be difficult to be much better than 1.11 points per game? What are you looking to improve overall in your game?
Hall: My play away from the puck is probably the biggest thing that I’m looking to improve on. You never know what your career entails. I could look back in three years and look at my season last year and be like ‘ah that was a so-so season’ because I’ve improved so much.
I’m still a young player, I’m 21 years old, and I’m far from the peak of my career. I think that me learning to play better on the defensive side and away from the puck, not only on my own end, but in the neutral zone and the offensive zone. Just put myself in better positions to get that puck back; I think that will make me a much better player, give me a shot at that Olympic team and most importantly help the Oilers more.
Fans need to realize that Hall averaged 1.11 points-per-game last year. If he maintains that, he’ll be a 90-point player. Only Malkin, Giroux and Stamkos matched those totals in 2012. In 2011, only five players matched those totals, and seven did in 2010. If Hall maintains his point production from last year, that will be a hell of a full season.
Last year, he told me he spent the summer working on his passing game, and we saw him become a much better play maker last season. Hall said he committed himself to being better away from the puck this summer, so I suspect we will see a big improvement in his overall game.
Gregor: I want to talk a little bit about your leadership. Since the day that you were drafted in 2010 until now, I’ve seen on my own from watching and talking to you how much you’ve matured as a person, never mind as a player. How do you feel you’ve matured as a person and as a player that will allow you to take on even more of a leadership role on the team this year?
Hall: There are a lot of things. I’m definitely a lot more mature than when I came in as a starry-eyed 18 year old. I didn’t know the city well, and I didn’t know how to conduct myself as I do now. I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be a pro and what it takes to be in the NHL, and especially what it takes to be on a Canadian team in the NHL. There are a lot of things that go into playing in Edmonton and being a good player on a team like we have. You have to be able to grow up pretty fast and I feel like I’ve done that.
Being able to grow up with guys like Jordan [Eberle] and Ryan [Nugent-Hopkins] and Justin [Schultz] and Gags [Sam Gagner] and all of these guys has really helped me. We are going through the same sort of growing pains and we can understand each other. Just having those guys around has made it a lot easier on me, and it’s really allowed me to become the person that I want to be. So it’s a credit to those guys, I love hanging out with those guys and I can’t wait to get the year started with them.
14th CAPTAIN IN OILERS HISTORY
Gregor: You had an alternate captaincy last season; Shawn Horcoff is no longer here, so there is a vacancy for the captaincy. Have you thought about that; is that a goal of yours?
Hall: I can’t say that that is a goal of mine. I’d be really honored to have the captaincy here. Just like what everyone says when the captaincy is brought up there have been so many captains that have played here that are great players and great people. Whoever gets it is going to be someone who will be looked upon to create structure for this team and be someone that everyone can lean on so whether it’s me or Jordan or Andrew Ference, it really doesn’t matter to me. It’s just a letter to throw on a jersey and I think that I’ve found my way of leading and that’s on the ice; playing with passion and playing hard every shift. That wouldn’t really change if I had the captaincy to be honest.
I’ve said for months, I see no reason to rush giving Hall or Eberle the captaincy. As Hall said, he won’t change just because he has a letter stitched on his jersey, but there is more pressure and off-ice responsibility for a captain. I’d lean towards a veteran like Ference, and allow Hall and Eberle to keep maturing and taking more leadership under him. Being captain is a lot of pressure, but being captain on a team on a Canadian team that has missed the playoffs seven years in a row is even more daunting. I’d hold off a year or two to give the "C" to one of the young stars.
Gregor: When you elevated your game to being a point a game type of player, did you notice teams playing you differently last season?
Hall: I can’t say that they really did. Right after my first season I noticed that I was getting the first pairing defence on the road every time and that’s no different for Jordan and Nuge. That’s something that you have to get used to. In my first year I would have been intimidated having to go up against the [Kevin] Bieksas and [Drew] Doughtys of the world, I would have been intimidated by that.
Now I take it as a challenge and I relish that. I think that I’m used to playing against those types of players. It makes you a better player. The better you get in the league, the harder the other players are going to play you, the more the opposing coaches are going to talk about you in their pre-game speech. I think that that’s exciting, that’s what we all want as young players.
Gregor: How is your golf game this summer?
Hall: Terrible. You?
Gregor: Up and down. I’ve actually only golfed about five times. I haven’t improved.
Hall: Mine’s terrible. When I played junior in Windsor, my billet was a golf pro and at the start of every season I would go out with him and he’d teach me a lot of stuff. It’s been too long since I was able to do that and my game has just fallen off of the map. I’ve got to get some golf lessons at the start of next summer to get it back where it was at.
Gregor: What terrible for you, what are you shooting?
Hall: Right now 87 to 92, but I feel like I could be a way better golfer than that.
Gregor: I hear Eberle is a pretty good golfer.
Hall: Yeah he golfs a lot. I golf once every 2-3 weeks. If you want to get good at something, that’s not how you get good at something.
Gregor: So when you play golf together does he give you strokes and do the chirps start flying?
Hall: (laughs) No, we just play for fun. He knows that he’s better than I am. Sometimes when we get together as teammates, we’ll play two-on-two and we’ll have strokes put on for certain guys. That’s where it gets really exciting, when someone plays above their head and you start hearing the term “sandbagger” thrown around. That’s when it gets pretty fun.
Gregor: Who is the best golfer amongst your teammates?
Hall: Easily, Horc was. He’s with Dallas now. He was a great golfer, he loved golf. He was always getting lessons and that sort of thing. Ebs has really stepped it up from what I’ve heard this summer. He’s thrown a few rounds in there in the low 70s, so that’s pretty good.
PRODUCTIVE OFF SEASON
Gregor: That’s not bad. Did your off-season workout regime change significantly from previous ones?
Hall: Not too much, I mean I definitely put a huge aspect of my workout on rest. I value my off days and I make sure that as much as I’m working hard in the gym, on the ice and on the track that I’m taking good rest days to let my body recover. I think that the last thing that you want to do when you come into camp is be tired and be mentally fatigued. I make sure that I train hard, but that I train smart. I think that every year you go along and you add things to your workout regime and you take away certain things, and I think that I’ve gotten pretty good at doing that.
I was nice to have an offseason where I’m not rehabbing something. One offseason it was my ankle, one summer it was my shoulder and this summer it’s been absolutely nothing, so I’ve just been training and enjoying my summer back home in Kingston.
Gregor: Do you then feel more confident that you can be even better than you were last year because you’ve been able to push yourself more, because you haven’t had to do any rehab?
Hall: I think that that would be an easy assumption and certainly that’s what I’d like to think, but the NHL is not an easy league. Sometimes you can be as prepared as you want and as good as you want, yet it doesn’t work out sometimes. You never know what the season is going to entail for a lot of guys, and I’m just hoping that I can have a good start. Usually I’m a pretty slow starter so I’m working on getting my game back to midseason form as soon as I can. I want to make sure that I can help the team out the best I at the start of the year.
Interesting to hear that Hall says he’s a slow starter. In his rookie season he had 5 points (3 goals) in the first month (11 games). In October of 2011, he had 3 goals and 9 points in 10 games, while last season he had two goals, ten points in the first 10 games. If anything he’s been a bit of a slow goal scorer, but if he thinks those numbers represent a slow start that bodes well for the Oilers. Hall demands a lot of himself and he’s always looking to improve his game. If he feels he’s been slow out of the gate the past few years, that could be a positive this year for the Oilers.
Gregor: Do you play fantasy football, or do you guys have a pick ‘em league?
Hall: We don’t have a fantasy draft. During the season we’ll pick winners and losers and every week, and whoever picks the most winners gets some money or whatever. I’m not really to sure what we will do this year, but we had fun with that last year. I love NHL football, but I don’t really know the whole fantasy football part of it. I just love watching it on Sundays and Mondays.
Gregor: Who’s your team?
Hall: I don’t really have a team. I definitely like the Patriots a lot. I love the way that [Tom] Brady conducts himself and I love how every year no matter who’s on his roster he elevates his teammates’ games to a point where they become something way more than they were before he was passing to them. Guys like that you can really admire. Those NFLers are some of the best athletes in the world and the way that they can run and catch and jump is just crazy to me.
Gregor: In an interview with Bob [Stauffer], you mentioned that coach Eakins had told to work on your faceoffs, and be prepared that you might play centre for a few games. Do you think that will be a short term fix or do you think that there is a chance that you could play centre all year?
Hall: I’m not really too sure. Like I said before, it’s up to Dallas and it’s up to Ryan’s recovery with his shoulder. He’s [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] without a question our number one centre and he’s a guy that I love playing with, but at the same time I don’t think that they’re going to rush him into the lineup, nor should they.
If they feel that I should play centre for four, five, six or seven games, I’m down for that. I can play centre for however long they want me to, but I’ve kind of made it known that I like to play left wing. I’ve grown my game as a left winger a lot in the past three seasons and I like where my game is. So it would be kind of hard to switch now, but like I say, it’s whatever they want me to do. If they want me to work on my faceoffs that’s what I’m going to do.
If Hall truly wants to be a left winger, then ultimately that is where they should play him. If he plays centre and has some success, maybe he’ll be more inclined to stay there, but the last thing the Oilers should do is have Hall playing a position he doesn’t feel comfortable or confident at.