Taylor Hall enters his 5th NHL season as one of the most dangerous scorers in the NHL, but the 22-year-old spent the summer analyzing his game in hopes of becoming even more dominant this season.
How much better can he be? According to the first overall pick in 2010, he can improve significantly.
“I believe that I’m far from a
finished product,” responded Hall when I asked him where he feels his game is at. He spent the summer getting stronger, but also watching video from last season and picking out aspects of his game that he wants to improve.
“When I watch games from myself and when I look at last season overall, I feel that there are still things that I can improve on, not
only defensively, which is obvious and a lot of people can say that, but still
offensively as well. I feel like I haven’t reached my peak as far as production
and as far as being a big part of our Oilers offense,” said Hall.
I asked him to elaborate on what parts of his game he watched on film.
“My shooting percentage the last
couple of years has hovered around ten and for a guy that gets a lot of shots,
and I get a lot of opportunities,
breakaways and little scoring opportunities I want to get as good as I can at
those and try to raise my shooting percentage a little bit.
“Also, not giving the puck away as much
is a big part of my game that I need to work on. When I have the opportunities
and I’m making the right plays, using my teammates and shooting the puck and
all of that stuff at the right time I feel I can be a difference maker,” Hall said.
He also discussed entering battles smarter and using better body position.
“I’d go into battles off balance or recklessly and I’d end up falling. I was leaning in and leading with my stick too much. I want to enter those frays with better body position. I’m the same weight as last year, but I’m much stronger. I lifted heavier weights this year and that should help me in those battles. I worked a lot on getting better body position. It is a small part of the game that should really help me control the puck better,” said the Oilers leading scorer.
CHANGES STARTED LAST YEAR
In the second half of last season, I noticed Hall was much more focused on back pressure. He used his impressive speed to break up plays at the Oilers blueline, and often transitioned the puck back up ice.
Was this a conscious decision on his part, or did someone point out that weakness in his game?
“That was definitely a conscious
thing”, Hall said quickly.
“I really wasn’t playing well defensively to start the season last year,
and it really did hinder my game offensively. I didn’t have the puck as much,
or our team didn’t have the puck as much when I was on the ice, so I started to
back pressure harder and I started to turn pucks over. I felt that when I did
that our team had the puck more and I was creating more offence and my line was
creating more offence.
“So, that’s an important thing to remember
as I come into the year. I realized that what worked for me last year was playing really good
defence. Obviously there’s going to be times when I turn the puck over, there
are going to be some missed passes, but I want those to be as limited as
“If I can get my defensive game in order through training camp and the
exhibition season, I think it’s really going to help me with my game to start
the year because I am a slow starter, and I feel like that might be a reason why,” Hall.
A slow starter?
Hall had 3 goals and 8 points in his first 9 games last season, before he was injured. Hall had 2 goals and 10 points in the first 10 games after the lockout, yet he believes he’s a slow starter.
I asked why.
“I feel like
the points and the goals might have been there, but as far as my overall game it
always seems to be the best as the season is finishing. I want to correct that
and I want to get my overall game as good as I can to start the year just so
that I can help out the team more. The slow start of last year, as much as
people want to blame the goalies and stuff, I think I was a big part of that,” he explained.
Hall spoke like a player who was determined to make more of an impact on the ice. He desperately wants to win, and I sensed he believes he can be a difference maker in both ends of the rink. Because he has the puck so much, he’ll turn it over, most puck carriers do, but this was the most excited I’ve seen Hall talk about his play away from the puck.
He’s coming off a career-year in points, but feels he has so much more to give. He also spoke candidly about feeling much more comfortable heading into camp this season.
“Last year was a little bit different,
people may scoff, but just coming in and having to play centre for the whole
camp and the first couple of games of the regular season…I don’t think it let
me get off on the right foot starting the season
“I’m comfortable now, I feel like I have
the right mindset so I’m excited,” stated Hall.
I never liked the centre experiment. The best time to have tried it would have been during the lockout when Hall was playing in the AHL, but coming off of a shoulder injury he wasn’t keen on the idea, so they didn’t try it.
Last year, Eakins came in and he wanted to see for himself if Hall could work at centre. Luckily it was a short-lived experiment. The Oilers still have major question marks at centre, but they’ve realized that moving their best player to a new position isn’t the best way to solve the centre dilemma.
Hall also brought up the importance of dealing with the same head coach heading into camp.
“Having the same coach and knowing the systems is good, but I think the biggest
thing is knowing personality-wise what he expects and what he is like as a
person. And now that we know each other, if we haven’t chatted for three days,
there’s not that awkwardness when I see him next.
“I think he knows what I expect of him, and
more importantly, what he expects of me and I think that’s good for a player
like myself and for everyone that is returning. They probably feel a lot more
comfortable this year than last,” said Hall.
Throughout our conversation Hall was constantly talking about us, we and the team. Personal stats are nice, but he wants to win, and it is clear he realizes that the better he plays in both ends of the rink, the higher the chances are of the Oilers having success.
I’m not sure his improved overall play will be enough to lead the Oilers to the playoffs, but if his teammates follow his lead and decide to analyze the weaknesses of their games, and focus on improving those areas, the Oilers should be a much more competitive team than we’ve seen over the past five seasons.
At the very least, it should be very exciting for Oilers fans to watch the evolution of Hall.
Hall’s 130 points over the past two seasons are the 6th most the NHL,
trailing only Crosby (160), Ryan Getzlaf (136), Ovechkin (135), Claude
Giroux (134) and Phil Kessel (132).
During those two years Hall is 5th in
points-per-game at 1.08/game, behind Crosby (1.38), Evgeni Malkin
(1.15), Steven Stamkos (1.14) and Getzlaf (1.12).
He is already one of
the elite offensive scorers in the league, so how much better can be be with a more intense focus on being a complete player?
I’m curious to find out.
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