Part two, if you will, with Taylor Hall

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I interviewed Taylor Hall for a feature piece that ran in the Edmonton Journal yesterday. I wasn’t able to include all of his thoughts in one article. I had to leave out some good comments, but I wanted to share the remainder of our conversation.

Today, Hall shares some more insight into Todd McLellan as a coach, but I also learned more about Hall as a person, not just the player.

The one constant during our conversation was Hall’s excitement and energy burst through the phone. He sounded completely different than the young man who spoke
to the media at the conclusion of the Oilers season. Confidence and the mental
side of the game are often undervalued. Even the best players in the world
lose their confidence. Steven Stamkos, one of the best goal scorers in the
game, had no goals in the first eight playoff games. He was struggling, but
after scoring vs. Montreal
in game two he has seven goals in his past eleven games and once again looks like an elite scorer.

Five years of losing will eat away at you,
but one small stint of success can erase those memories quickly. That seems to be the case with Hall. He rediscovered the fun of hockey while playing in Prague.

What did Hall learn playing for Canada
that he hopes to bring to training camp next year?

“Just that it was a collective effort. I
think Todd [McLellan] did a really good job of making sure everyone not only
had a role, but knew what it was and knew how to excel in it. There were guys
that were not playing as much as they were used to on their club teams, but
everyone felt important in their role and everyone felt like what they were
bringing to the team was something that was important. I think you’ve got to
bring guys into the fire, make sure you make guys feel important and I think
that everyone really did feel like that in Prague,” said Hall.

In yesterday’s article, Hall mentioned how prepared McLellan was as a coach and that was a theme throughout our 25-minute conversation.

One of the best compliments a coach can
receive from a player is that he is prepared. NHL players are robotic by
nature. They like routine. They are conditioned to absorb the information they
receive from the coach and then put it to use on the ice. If players don’t feel
prepared prior to a game, they rarely play up to their full potential because
they are thinking more than reacting.

McLellan’s preparedness wasn’t the only
trait that grabbed Hall’s attention.

Hall has only been in the NHL for five
seasons, but he’s a wily veteran when it comes to learning how to play for a
different coach. McLellan will be his fifth head coach, but Hall won’t need
significant time in training camp or the preseason to understand how his new
coach thinks. He knows what to expect, and I asked Hall what aspect of
McLellan’s coaching strategy impressed him the most.

“I’d say the amount of attention that was
put into being above the puck and being in front of the puck in the offensive
zone. As soon as the puck was turned over, or we didn’t have a hundred percent
possession, we were told to get above the puck and get inside position on their
guys so we can outnumber them in any situation. If they turned the puck over
then we’re in the spot to produce offense immediately. He was strict about
playing that way, but he also explained it in a way that was easy to understand
and implement on the ice,” answered Hall.

Again, Hall’s excitement about his new coach seemed to match his renewed excitement about the game. Five years of losing, and losing horribly, will break down the will of any athlete. Winning a gold medal and being a main contributor to the championship was a huge boost for Hall’s psyche.

Hall the person…

During the past five seasons, I’ve noted how the frustration of losing caused some fans to attack the personalities of players, not just their play on the ice. I’ve felt one of the biggest mistakes we make when watching pro sports is forgetting the athletes are human. They are great athletes, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to the same struggles of every day people.

People judge athletes and think they know them because they watch them on TV or follow them on social media. That isn’t the case. I’ve covered teams for 14 years and I’d say I truly know maybe 5-10 players in a way where I really got a sense of who they are as a person, not just a player.

Hall arrived in Edmonton a young, excited and confident 18
year old. He was supposed to be the saviour of the franchise; the first ever #1
overall pick. Some expected him to carry the Oilers back to the playoffs, and
when winning didn’t occur, the pressure mounted and at times Hall admits it was
hard to deal with.

“I think as you get older you start to kind
of fit into your personality and you start being the person that you’re going
to be for the rest of your life. I think that that is happening with me. I’ve
played five years in the NHL, but I’m only at the age where most people are
just graduating from university. I’m still learning about myself. All of the
losses that we’ve had in the last five were frustrating. Maybe other guys would
have lashed out in the same way that I did a couple of times, maybe they
wouldn’t, but that’s the way that it goes. I’m starting to learn that sometimes
you just have to relax and let things happen as they do. A good example for me
has been the last month for our team. Things are going to work out and I see
that now,” said Hall.

Patience rarely comes easy to anyone, but
when you are young and the face of the franchise in a hockey-crazed market it
can be even harder to obtain. Hall has worked on finding the right balance of
passion and patience.

“I try to play with a lot of passion. I
think it is important to play with emotion, but you want to make sure you’re
not going over the line. I think that’s what I’ve gotten better at. Certainly
in public I’m a lot more shy than people think, especially when people come up
to me that I don’t know. I’m not the type of person that’s going to have a
twenty minute convo. That isn’t an easy thing for me, but as I get older I find
I’m getting better at those types of things.

“I’ve heard people say they think I’m
arrogant or a snob and that used to bother me, because I’m not that person. I’m
reserved around people I don’t know; even when I went to the Worlds the first
time I was shy. I’ve gotten better at letting my guard down, but I’ve also
learned you have to be true to who you are and not worry what strangers say
about you,” said Hall.

When Hall was injured last year we watched one game on TV together. I wanted to ask him about what he saw, and more so what I didn’t catch during the play. It was a valuable learning experience for me, but during intermissions and after the game we talked about non-hockey things. I left that evening knowing more about who Hall was as a young man. He is naturally shy, closer to an introvert than an extrovert, and because of how demonstrative he is on the ice, I think some people expect he will be the same way off the ice. He isn’t.

The harsh reality of playing in a hockey
market is players have to mature in the public eye. Young NHL players are
expected to make the right decision on and off the ice all of the time, and
frankly that isn’t realistic, especially when you are 18-21 years of age. Hall
and his other young teammates have had to mature in losing environment. It
wasn’t easy, but with all the changes during the past six weeks the fanbase, the players and the entire organization are hopeful the worst is behind them.

Hall, like every fan, was excited about the arrival of McDavid. “We played against Jack Eichel, and he was impressive. Everyone seems to think Connor is even better, and that is exciting. I’m looking forward to meeting him and playing with him, and helping him out off the ice if he needs it. I’ve learned a lot about myself the past five years and how to deal with adversity, and hopefully he won’t have to experience as much losing as we did in my first few seasons,” joked Hall.

The major advantage McDavid will have upon his arrival in Edmonton, is he’ll be able to play with Hall. A top-end offensive player with five years of NHL experience, but also a player who has the understanding of what it feels like to be looked upon as the saviour for an organization.

McDavid will learn from Hall and Hall will study some things from young McDavid. Both will be extremely excited when they arrive for training camp.

McDavid is going to be stoked playing in the NHL. Hall will be energized by the thoughts of being on a competitive team again, and filled with the belief he is more prepared to help lead the team on and off the ice.

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  • PChan121

    Maybe a couple other guys should go and chase the Whyte Ave. bunnies, might improve their game.

    What you expect, 19 yr old millionaires, you want them to join the local knitting club.So long as they practice and play hard, who cares.

    There are 40 yr olds that chase bunnies too.

    Interesting when referencing to Halls’ five year tenure that the organization in those five years have yet to have a legit DEFENSE man in their line up. Think about five long years.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    Yakupovs success is vital for our top nine in order to run three dominant pairings.

    Hall/McDavid

    Eberle/Hopkins

    Yakupov/Draisatl

    Chase/Lander

  • bradleypi

    Hall has become a whipping boy the past few seasons and I felt it was quite unfair. Who can blame someone for being upset with the circus atmosphere around Eakins, MacT, Lowe etc?

    Gagner was a whipping boy despite busting his ass 100% every game. He was poorly developed, but he never gave anything less than his best as an Oiler.

    Hemsky ditto.

    Horcoff ditto.

    Justin Schultz is exactly what Hall said he was, a guy still trying to figure out who he is. He went from saviour to current whipping boy. He has a boat load of talent but was poorly mismanaged from the start. He doesn’t have the personality to deal with the chaos around him. Now that Hall seems to be turning the page, I think Schultz should be given the benefit of the doubt. I am very sure that he will reach his potential with McLellan running the show. He is a key piece to watch this year.

    Yaks is gold. Same boat as Schultz but seems to get a pass on criticism. He will excel this year.

    Eakins ruined everything and everybody. Either a complete tool or a very good destroyer of worlds.

    McDavid, McDavid, McDavid.

  • Zarny

    Great read and insight. Hall sounds rejuvenated and that can only benefit the Oilers.

    Attention to detail. Going hard for every drill at every practice. Being on the right side of the puck. Playing as a unit. As one would expect, the WHC was great experience for Hall and Ebs. They need to bring those lessens back to Edm.

    It will be interesting to see where the C lands in Edm. Hall and Nuge are strong candidates but you have to think in 3-4 years the answer will be McDavid.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Not to worry. A real franchise player is about to enter the picture. All you support types try and keep up.

    Try and stay on your feet Taylor, help the new guy. Maybe even help Yakupov if you’re not to busy.

    Think better team mate, rather than nailer.

  • BigMcD

    Seems like lots of introverts for the Oiler’s top guys. Makes sense though. I remember reading that Guy Lafleur was so talented because he spent so many hours on his own goofing around with the puck. The same probably applied to Gretzky and even Crosby. Seems like Yakupov might be the only top pick they Oilers have who might be extroverted.

    Interesting article. I’ll cheer a little harder for Hall this year. Good luck to him.

  • jonnyquixote

    I don’t have much in the way of comments on this article. It was insightful, positive without being effusive fan-gushing type praise. If a big dark cloud is lifting over this city we all need to get more positive about the future.

    Well done.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    I heard from a bird that last season Hall was actually in rehab during his “injury”.

    I thought it was BS, but then stopped and listened to the guy….how many times do people take “a shot in practice” and miss as many weeks as Hall did last year?? Could have been the Oilers pulling the wool over the media’s eyes and sending him to Henwood for a cleansing.

    I would trade Taylor for Seth Jones straight up. We need a stud on the blue line. Nashville needs offense. 6 million cleared on our cap.

    Imagine Nurse and Jones playing on opposite shifts as pillars for the next decade. Oilers version of the twin towers with McDavid and Nuge up the middle.

    • bradleypi

      Well that would coincide with how 2 years ago 90% of oilersnation wanted hallsy traded because he was a “cancer in the dressing room, parties at the bar too much and doesn’t stick up for his teammates.” I certainly remember that because I would try to defend him after every game after all of oilersnation was calling for his head. But now hallsy wins gold and plays like the player I tried telling oilersnation he was, and all of a sudden oilersnation loves him again. What a shocker.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Yep BradleyPi
    Are people actually naive enough to think a guy who plays hockey is unable to fall victim to substance abuse? Apparently Plunktank is.

    He’s the epidime of a soft perimeter player that is prone to turnovers. Tones of skill, but has had zero accountability in his NHL and junior career.

    Seth Jones is a beast waiting to break out. Big nasty Dman that can skate. Similar to Nurse. I would trade Hall all day for him. People on ON overvalue the current “core” players. This same core has made the Oilers the laughing stock of the league….why keep that “core” together??

    • bradleypi

      You’re on glue if you think hallsy is a perimeter player. He’s injury prone because he’s fearless. Guy drives the net almost every play. He reminds me of Glenn Anderson. And I’m hallsys biggest fan so don’t try to tell me that a guy as committed to hockey and the oilers as him has any sort of substance abuse problem. Go take your rumours somewhere else. I don’t wanna hear them

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Sorry to offend you and your BFF Hallsy.

    He is not a power forward. He falls all over the ice and get rocked every game. If flying down the wing and shooting high and wide is your idea of Glenn Anderson cutting to the net, then you are the one on glue.

    You’d swear he has brought 2 cups to Edmonton, but instead he has brought injuries,turnovers and the NHL basement. Not exactly sure where or why there’s all the love.

    • SSB1963

      And please do tell who you actually think is a power forward? What makes a player a power forward. I tend to agree that Hall has a little bit of Glen Anderson in him and I love it.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    On this team the only guy that would somewhat resemble one is Pouliot. Enough size and strength to stand up long enough through battles to keep puck possession. Hall is not a power forward because he lacks a physical edge. I find him soft because he never stands up for himself or his teammates postwhistle and other teams know it. Ever notice how Bieksa constantly chops and hacks him and then laughs in his face between plays?

    If you ever play a drinking game where you drink for every time Hall falls down, you end up pissed drunk before the start of the 3rd period. Does he play recklessly? Yes. Which is why he has missed half his career due to injury. He is fast and works hard….but he also makes junior mistakes 5 years into his career. He played well at the Worlds but let’s not forget the amount of mistakes he has made as well.

    If you want talent on the blue line, you need to give up talent. I would trade Hall for Seth Jones. You won’t get anything for Yakupov or Schultz. Gotta give to get.