Hall, the #1 overall pick in the recent NHL Entry Draft, has also achieved #1 status on the Copper & Blue's Top 25 Under 25. But I don't suppose that qualifies as earth-shattering news.
Delivered, sealed, and signed to a bonus-laden entry-level contract, Hall arrives in Edmonton on the heels of a highly-decorated junior career in which he led the Windsor Spitfires to the last two Memorial Cup titles and represented Canada four times internationally, winning three gold medals (U-17, U-18, and Ivan Hlinka tournaments) and one silver (U-20). On the individual level, Hall was the CHL's Rookie of the Year in his 15/16 year-old-season, made the OHL All-Star team the next two years, won a playoff MVP (the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award!), a scoring title, and became the first two-time recipient of the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as Memorial Cup MVP. All of this before he was even draft-eligible.
But all of that is in the past. Today, what Taylor Hall represents for Oiler fans is hope. Hope for better days ahead (how can they not be?) and hope for a return to the glory years (not bloody likely, but we can hope).
Taylor Hall is a dynamic player whose style has been described as "visceral" rather than "cerebral". He's not a read-and-react type, he's a guy who will drive the play and force the other guys to react. His combination of speed, skill, and fearlessness has many evoking the Ghosts of Oilers' Past, most often Glenn Anderson and Mark Messier, although Jari Kurri's name has slipped into the conversation as well. Many such comparisons come with a built-in caveat "but he can't be expected to be the same calibre of player as those legends". Well, I disagree. I think he can and should be expected to be a great one (note: lower case; even my high expectations aren't quite that high!).
Lofty expectations go with the territory of the #1 overall pick, which has produced full-blooded superstars about half the time over the past four decades. It's an impressive list: Perreault, Lafleur, Potvin, Bobby Smith, Hawerchuk, Lemieux, Clark, Turgeon, Modano, Sundin, Nolan, Lindros, Thornton, Lecavalier, Kovalchuk, Nash, Ovechkin, Crosby, Kane, Stamkos, Tavares... Hall?
Let's hope that Hall and Anderson share more than fearlessness. Despite being involved in any number of frightful collisions, crashes and mishaps over the years, Anderson seemed indestructible; is Hall built of similar stock? I personally saw him get lit up four or five times last season in limited viewings, most memorably on his first shift in the Memorial Cup where he survived a frightening, and potentially life-changing, face-first crash into the end boards, only to pick himself up and return to score a dazzling highlight-reel goal within a few minutes. In the NHL, where he will have to deal with the likes of Robyn Regehr, Douglas Murray, and Andy Sutton dishing out the punishment, he will need to develop a better sense of self-preservation. The biggest fear about Hall's pell mell style is that he may be destined to spend lots of time on the injured reserve list that has seemingly swallowed Oiler rosters whole in recent years.
So far, however, Hall has stayed healthy, and we can only hope - there's that word again - that he remains so. As he said in his pre-draft interview to the approval of Steve Tambellini and Stu MacGregor, "I need to go to those places". Like a mountain climber or downhill skier, Taylor's game has to be played out near the edge to be effective. Risks are inevitable, he just needs to be a little more aware of managing them. Messier and Anderson did so in part by developing a mean streak that Hall would do well to emulate, at least to a degree.
The heavens know the Oilers are long overdue for a change of both luck and direction. Dynamic players the calibre of Hall have been thin on the ground since Messier, Anderson and the other Oiler legends left town two decades ago. Like them, Taylor Hall arrives in a cluster of talented young forwards including Magnus Pääjärvi, Jordan Eberle, and Sam Gagner. Alas, there is no young defenceman the calibre of Coffey or Lowe, no emerging goalie like Fuhr or Moog, and certainly no Gretzky to lead the parade. There are a couple of elite-quality veterans on the squad in Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner, but this is still and all a squad that finished 30th overall this past year and won the draft lottery on (de)merit.
As the new kids start driving the bus we can expect a rough ride with plenty of speed bumps along the way. Indeed, that was the case with the original Boys on the Bus; it wasn't always smooth sailing in the early years. But as the young team of the '80s came together, those early years were exciting, fun, and always full of hope. Oiler fans should adopt a similar attitude toward the team of the '10s. Taylor Hall's team.