Taylor Hall is an awesome hockey player. He is indisputably one of the NHL’s top five left wings and for my money he’s top three, with only Jamie Benn and Alex Ovechkin slotting in ahead of him.
And yet it often feels like he’s overlooked. Overlooked by the league at large, which would rather give Ovechkin two All-Star berths than award Hall one or name Chris Kunitz to an Olympic team in his place. Yet those omissions are at least understandable to some degree; what’s really surprising is that sometimes he’s overlooked even in Edmonton, where his efforts should be most obvious.
Fifth in NHL Scoring
It’s fun to compare Hall’s circumstances with those of the other players on this list.
Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn of course have each other; they play together at evens and on the power play and give every opposition defence pairing two terrifying talents to deal with at the same time. Generally they also play with Patrick Sharp, who is no slouch himself. Hall plays with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is an excellent player but not nearly the dynamic talent that Seguin is, while right wing has been a revolving door with third- and fourth-line wingers cast in the slot at least as often as not this season.
Patrick Kane plays on the same team as Jonathan Toews, but it is Toews who is consistently hard-matched against the opposition’s best, meaning that Kane generally ends up facing the other coach’s second best defensive options on most nights. Some would say that Connor McDavid helps do the same for Hall, but they have it backward: It is Hall who takes the tough minutes, and McDavid who benefits from his long shadow. That’s going to change with time, but for now there’s no question that Hal’s line is the one doing the heavy lifting.
Blake Wheeler is a good player, but he also benefits from playing for a good team and this season from a shooting percentage that far eclipses his career average of 11.5 percent. Hall does not play for such a team, and unlike Wheeler his shooting percentage of 11.5 percent is basically spot-on with his career number of 11.1 percent.
With due respect to the four players in front of Hall on this list (all of them very good-to-great), none of them have to climb the mountain he’s clambering up every night. He doesn’t get the benefit of soft minutes, he doesn’t have a superstar helping to carry the load on his line, he doesn’t have a great team behind or around him—and on defence, in particular, that really matters—and yet there he is in the thick of the NHL scoring race.
This Isn’t New
Since 2012-13, Hall ranks fourth among NHL forwards in terms of five-on-five points per hour. Ahead of him on the list are Jamie Benn, Ryan Getzlaf and Sidney Crosby. Just behind him are Tyler Seguin and Evgeni Malkin and Patrick Kane and John Tavares and all the rest. In extremely difficult circumstances, he has proven himself to be an elite offensive weapon.
And it’s not just offence. It’s two-way play, too.
The Oilers have a 48.2 percent Corsi rating when Hall is on the ice. That falls to 44.4 percent without him. That’s a chasm, but the gap is even higher if we focus in on high-danger scoring chances. With Hall on the ice, the Oilers take 49 percent of all high-danger chances, with the opposition getting 51 percent; basically break-even on a team which is out-chanced 57-43 with Hall on the bench.
Hall’s frequently criticized for being undisciplined, but the only Oilers forward who has done a better job of drawing penalties than him over the span in question is Nail Yakupov (who is shockingly good at this, and doesn’t get credit for it, but that’s another piece).
He’s been a very, very good player for a long time now. It’s baffling to me when complaints about his attitude or his effort or even his skill rise, as they do all too often. It’s deeply surprising to me when I see his name casually floated in trade proposals, as though the Oilers would do just fine without him. Maybe it’s guilt by association; maybe being part of a bad team for so long has led to an erroneous belief that Hall is a key part of the badness.
He isn’t. He’s a very good left wing playing for a team which over his tenure has had deep problems in net, on defence and up front outside of its top line. He’s done all – more, really – than anyone could reasonably expect him to do.