Taylor Hall set to face his former team

Yesterday Taylor Hall was a guest on my radio show. Hall will play the Oilers for the first time this Saturday. It is always an emotional game for any player going against his former team, but it is usually a bigger deal when you played there for five-plus seasons.

I didn’t re-hash the trade. I think we’ve discussed it enough. Instead, we discussed adapting to New Jersey, playing a much different system, travel from west to east and of course his mindset as he gets set to face his former team.

Jason Gregor: Will you be watching the World Juniors gold medal game with some teammates, or by yourself?

Taylor Hall: Yeah, I have some friends and family who have come in for the two games (Toronto tonight and Edmonton on Saturday) this weekend so I’ll watch it with them. I’ve been keeping close tabs on everything that’s been going on.

We have a lot of Americans on our team here in Jersey so it’s interesting to kind of jab back and forth at who’s going to win and try to get some friendly wagers going around. Especially with our coach, he’s an American and he coached at the program for a long time so he’s huge on the American side. I was trying to wager with him today that maybe we can get an extra day off this Monday if Canada wins. We’ll see how it goes.

Gregor: You don’t want to wager money with your coach, you want to wager some sort of ‘Let me run the practice and you have to skate.’

Hall: Yeah, I was saying to him that maybe for a whole practice if Canada wins he’d have to wear a Canadian hat or something, but I think that he would get in trouble from the American side for doing that.

Gregor: How has it been for you getting used to another new coach again?

Hall: I’ve had a few in my career which is not a great thing, but certainly this coach Hynes, he’s been great. We play a very structured game here and at times we can be one of the best defensive teams in the league when we put our minds to it. That’s been a bit of a change for me coming here, trying to incorporate myself into that system, but I think I have the hang of it and my job is to, once we get the puck back is to try to create offense and try to add a little bit of dynamic play that way.

Gregor: Does he help you work on any offensive stuff or is it basically ‘Here’s our structure in the defensive zone, and then when we get the puck, make the magic happen’?

Hall: No, I mean offensively too you have to have structure. If you’re playing in the offensive zone you have to have guys in certain areas of the ice to collect rebounds or to be open for shots. I mean, goalies and the D are so good in this league at protecting the net and blocking shots and that type of thing, you can’t just say, ‘Hey let’s get pucks to the net’. You’re not going to score like that anymore. You have to really move the puck around and create open ice for yourself and for your teammates.

The last couple of games here we’ve been doing a lot better job of that. We’ve scored some five-on-five goals and now it’s about getting our power play going. We practiced that today and hopefully these next three games at home, our power play needs to be on point and that will provide us with some more offense.

IS TRAVEL EASIER?

Gregor: You’ve had a few months to adjust to New Jersey and the Eastern Conference. I hear so much about the travel, and you spent your whole career as a young single guy in Edmonton and now you are in New Jersey. What’s been the biggest difference, travel-wise, for you?

Hall: In the West our road trips would be four or five games long and our home stands would be four or five games long. So you were either at home for an extended period of time or you were on the road for an extended period of time. Here in the East it’s more, you play two games at home and you jet off one game on the road, you come home for one game, then you’re gone for three. It’s a little bit tough to get used to one place at one time, but definitely miles traveled, its way better here than any year in Edmonton. So I think that that is an advantage as the year goes on. That’s something that you have to take advantage of when you’re playing these Western conference teams who have had a lot of travel.

Gregor: Do you notice a fatigue factor? Are you less tired because you are in bed a lot earlier after road games than when you played in the West?

Hall: Yeah, definitely, that’s been the case for a lot of this year. To be honest our travel and our schedule really the last month has been pretty brutal, but before that it was great. I think our February and March are a bit easier. If we can get through this month and still be in the mix for a playoff spot, that’s going to provide us with a really good chance down the stretch because our schedule is a lot easier. We’re not having these back-to-back games from Canada to the US, not having to cross the border like we have in the last month. It’s been pretty tiring but certainly the travel here has been a lot better.

Gregor: This is year number seven for you, but when you’re in the West, you know half of the league much better than the other half who you only see twice a year. Now you’re in New Jersey and you’re seeing teams on a regular basis that you only used to see once, twice a year depending on the schedule and health and things like that. Have you noticed a significant difference? Is it a lighter game, in the game, compared to the heavier game that everyone talks about in the West?

Hall: Yeah, the style of play is definitely different and I’m not going to say that one conference is easier than the other. Every game these days is hard and in the West it’s a lot more chip it in, go to work in the offensive zone, physical, grind them out. Having to play against LA and Anaheim, San Jose, teams that do that night in and night out, is tough.

Here in the East it’s a lot more skating, It’s maybe just a little bit less physical. So I guess you could say that as the year goes on it takes less of a toll on your body, but it’s not like I can say that the East has been easier by any means. It’s been tough and especially the division that we’re in this year, the Metro, if you look at the standings, these teams are dominating. So it’s been tough that way, but it’s been fun to experience a little bit a different style of play.

ANDY GREENE

Gregor: I hear a lot about Andy Greene, and that maybe he’s the most underrated defenseman in the NHL. I don’t know how much you knew about him before going to New Jersey, what you thought of him as a player, but you’ve seen him now every day for three months. Give me your scouting report on him.

Hall: Yeah, I can agree with that. He’s one of the most underrated guys in the league and one of those guys who whenever you’re on the ice with him, you know he’s so stable out there, he’s going to make plays offensively and defensively, he’s not just a guy who plays one way. So, as much as he can play in a game, as much as he can handle, that’s huge for our team. You like playing with guys like that, you like playing with guys who always want to make a play, that never seem to put you in a tough spot when they’re giving you the puck. He’s been a great captain for me and for the team so far.

Gregor: And Cory Schneider in goal.

Hall: Yeah, Schneids, he’s the key to our team. He’s the backbone of our team and he can win games on his own. I think he’s too good of a goalie to not be stellar for the rest of the year. He’s a great competitor and a super nice guy, a guy that when I first got here was super welcoming to me. All of the guys have been, to be honest.

Gregor: You came from a Canadian market, and now you go into New Jersey where you’re just outside of New York with two NHL, NFL, MLB and a NBA team. How has it been off of the ice for you being in not necessarily a hockey mad place?

Hall: It’s been a nice change. In saying that, obviously I enjoyed my time in Edmonton. I liked the fish bowl, I liked the pressure and the atmosphere that the Edmonton fans brought, but it’s been a nice change to leave the rink here and be a little bit anonymous. People recognize you now and then, mostly just ‘Hello’ or ‘Go Devils’, that kind of thing.

But being very close to New York City, it’s one of the best cities in the world and it has so much to offer to any young guy. So it’s been a nice change that way, but I’m Canadian, I love Canada, I love playing in a Canadian city and in the summers I still go back to Ontario because I’m a Canadian kid and that’s where my heart is.

Like I said, it’s been a fun year, but playing in a Canadian city was a great experience too and I would recommend to anyone if they can in their career, I would say that playing for a Canadian city is something that you have to mark off.

FACING THE OILERS

Hall Stock Oilers

Gregor: Taylor, when you got traded you didn’t hide your disappointment. You felt hurt at the time. You’ve had a few months to adapt. Have you thought a lot about facing your former team? Is it a big deal to you?

Hall: I think the best way for me to approach this game is the way that you approach every game, but sometimes if you play your former team you can get a little bit clouded mentally. The best way to approach it is our team has to get two points and at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters. All of the other crap that goes on, trade or no trade, we’re looking at first of all winning our game against Toronto and we’re looking at a huge game against Edmonton too. We need these points.

For me personally, I think that is the best way to go about things: get all of the media and other stuff out of the way and then I can just focus on helping my team win and just go from there. It’s probably better that I’m able to play Edmonton before I have to go to the city and play them. I’m looking forward to the game.

Gregor: You’re not overly chatty on the ice but you and Jordan Eberle are really good friends. You lived with Connor McDavid. Will you be more vocal in the game? Will you take a moment to have fun? Are you a chirper at all?

Hall: Um, I don’t know. I think maybe just see how the game goes. Certainly I don’t like to talk a whole lot out there to the opponent. I think it’s a bad look sometimes if you’re smiling and laughing with the other team, but they’re my friends and I expect them to compete against me as I’m going to compete against them. And they’re looking to help their team as well, so it’s going to be a fun game.

They’re still a team that plays fast and hard and is offensive, so we’re not looking to play a run-and-gun game by any means, but I think that it’s going to be an entertaining game from both sides. Like I said if I can help my team get two points and play a strong game, then that’s a good night on all fronts.

Gregor: New Jersey has been known for being a defensive team first and they obviously acquired you wanting some offense. With coach Hynes’ system do you feel you’re a better defensive player this season and if so, in what ways?

Hall: Yeah, I definitely think that I am. The game is so focused now on tracking back and getting guys above the puck and that type of thing, and it’s different for every team. Teams have to play to their strengths and one of our biggest strengths is our goalie. The next part is we don’t have, maybe, the offensive depth other teams have so we have to be strong defensively, and that’s just the way that things have to go here. So for my role, obviously I’m an offensive player, and I have to bring that, but I can’t be a liability on the other side and guys have to be able to rely on me. It’s been thirty games now and I think I’ve had a pretty good year, but I think there is another level I can reach as the season goes on.

Gregor: What level specifically. What areas of your game you can improve upon?

Hall: I’m still getting better at the D side. I feel like as I meet with coaches here and as I learn more, I’m getting better and better. Five-on-five offensively I’m usually pretty good at producing, and I’m not producing quite at the same clip as I usually have, so that’s what they brought me in here for. I have to produce at five-on-five, and offensively on power play, so that part of my game I think is going to come and hopefully in the next forty games I can really prove that.

Gregor: Being in New Jersey, who do you sense from your fans is the biggest rival, is it the Rangers automatically? How fun are those games?

Hall: Yeah, you know what, we’ve played the Rangers twice at MSG and that’s been a really good atmosphere. We haven’t fared very well at those games. I’d say Philly though. We played at home against Philly, there were four or five fights and you could tell the crowd was really into it.

The one thing about New Jersey sports fans is that they are very proud of their sports teams. They’re not bandwagon fans by any means. These are fans who have been second or third generation fans. It’s been fun that way. They’re a boisterous group and when we play the Rangers or the Islanders, who we haven’t yet, and when we play the Flyers, it’s always a fun game.

Gregor: Thanks for your time and best of luck this weekend. Enjoy the games.

Hall: Thanks for the call.

WRAP UP

Wrap

Most players I’ve spoke to over the years admit it is always easier playing the first game against your former team at home. It allows you to deal with half of the emotions instead of everything once. You don’t get caught up in seeing the city and all the friends and people behind the scenes. Hall will deal with that next week, and he mentioned he is looking forward to seeing the new rink, Joey Moss and many friends who helped make Edmonton his home for six years.

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