PRINCIPE: Russian To Olympic Conclusions
As the selection to Canada's Olympic Team draws near, Gene Principe looks at the case for Taylor Hall
How's the hangover? That is if you have one. New Year's Day brings with it a day of rest after some had a night full of the opposite. You wake up feeling like you have a little dry mouth, maybe a little bit of headache and possibly wondering what exactly happened last night. You wonder if any of the above symptoms will hit Taylor Hall a week from now. In less than seven days, Canada will announce its Olympic team. When the names are announced, and if Taylor Hall's isn't on it, maybe he'll be wondering exactly what happened.
I like him a lot as a player and as a person. I've seen him turn from a teenager into a young man before my very eyes. I am not suggesting he's a Sidney Crosby lock but I do believe he has to be and should be getting serious consideration and in my humble, and potentially biased opinion, this kid should be on the team. I just like too many things about his game for him not to be considered as one of the last front men to be named to the squad which is overseen by Steve Yzerman with more than a helping hand by Kevin Lowe.
|NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 28: Taylor Hall #4 of the Edmonton Oilers skates the puck in the zone against defensemen Ryan Ellis #4 and Seth Jones #3 of the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on November 28, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)|
I saw a few more reasons for my argument to stand on the final night of 2013. Edmonton scored three goals versus Phoenix on December 31st and Hall was in on all three of them. The trio of assists one off tying his career high of four. His stats line now reads 35 games 15 goals, 23 assists for 38 points. That's a pretty compelling case, when you just look at the numbers, that the left winger has put up. He's the team leader in points for the Oilers and if you look league wide he is, as of January 1st, tied for 18th in scoring. There are 11 Canadians ahead of or tied with him in points. Six are centremen, four are wingers and one is a defenceman. Throw in the fact Hall has missed seven games and the number of fellow Canadians ahead of him in the scoring race could be counted on one hand.
With the offence issue resolved let's turn to defence. It seems to be a complaint of every high-end skilled player that they don't, won't or can't play on the other side of the puck. I'm not suggesting Taylor Hall has a Selke trophy awaiting him in his near future but I don't believe his defensive play is as bad as some people might think. First off, it has improved every year and this season Hall looks as conscious as ever about what's going in his own zone. Against Phoenix on Tuesday night Hall finished plus two. On the season he sits at minus six. The Oilers have scored 109 goals. The Oilers have allowed 143 goals. As a team they are a minus 34. He's minus six. That's a pretty strong number under the circumstances.
From offence to defence and now to his greatest strength of all and that's skating. It is a thing of beauty, brute force, elegant gliding and yet powerful steps that describe what Hall can do when he laces up a pair of skates and hits the ice in NHL arenas across North America. Flat out he can fly and that's when he restricted to 200x85 sheets of ice. Give him the extra ice surface and I pity the defenceman trying to keep him from going to the outside or trying to keep up with the Oilers winger when he's in front and the chase is on from behind. Speed kills opposing teams chances of winning when players like Hall are on your side. If it's race involving skates I like Hall's chances almost every single time.
I also like his chances to be named to the Canadian Oympic Men's hockey team. Alright maybe it would still be considered a surprise or a long shot or maybe I've watched too many Oiler games and not enough of the others vying for Olympic positioning. However if you're Taylor Hall you can feel good about the fact you've done everything you can to get noticed for the right reasons. Even if he doesn't make the team the way he's playing 2014 can't help being a Happy New Year for Taylor Hall.
Gene Principe is the host for OIlers games on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Oilers