Taylor Hall is good. Really good. I think that because both of this first two seasons have been cut short by injuries he sometimes may not get the credit he deserves, even from Oiler fans.
In his second NHL season, also just his second hockey season since being drafted, Hall is showing the ability to push puck possession for his team at a level the Oilers have not seen in many years. At just 20 years old, Hall is well on his way to becoming one of the top wingers in the game and perhaps the best Oiler since the glory days.
That may be a bold statement and it is said with all due respect to Ryan Smyth and Doug Weight (two of my personal favourite Oilers of all time) but Taylor Hall is an absolute beast. He has been in the #1 spot in our rankings ever since being drafted and it would not be a long shot for him to stay there straight through until age 25.
There you have it. Almost unanimous. Although, it is worth noting that for the first time since he appeared on this list following being drafted, Hall received a 2nd place vote from someone on our panel. Jonathan Willis was the bold individual who dared not continue the string on unanimous #1 rankings. Of course, given his unprecedented move to slide Hall to #2 on his list (He ranked RNH at #1) I had to inquire as to what could have led to such a decision. Here is what Mr. Willis had to say for himself:
My ranking of Hall is based on two criteria. The first actually has very little to do with Hall - it's all about how well Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' 18-year old rookie season compares to the some of the best players in league history. The other is the only real worry with Hall: injury. His style has led to shoulder problems both in junior and in the NHL, and he suffered a concussion this year on a hit from Cory Sarich. Beyond injury worries, there's nothing else to complain about: at the age of 20 Hall is a tough minutes-ready winger who scored at a 36-goal pace and dominates the game when he's on the ice.
I think fear of injury is really the only thing someone can really cite as a reason to have concerns regarding Hall. That said most of his injuries don't seem to indicate an issue with recurrence with the exception of his shoulder. If Hall can be taken at his word that the issue had been bothering him since his time in Windsor, then hopefully his surgery will lead to a permanent recovery. If he can leave that issue in the past, there appears to be very little stopping Hall from becoming one of the best wingers in all of hockey.
Hall's CorsiRel this season was 15.2. I don't really need to show a chart here because all you need to know is the following: the second best number on the team was Ales Hemsky's 8.6, followed by Magnus Paajarvi's 6.6. To put it more bluntly, Hall's CorsiRel was more than twice as high as anyone else on the team with the exception of Hemsky, and even #83 was nowhere close. For those who don't follow advanced stats, that basically means that when Taylor Hall is on the ice at even strength, the Oilers are generating shots at the opposition's net at a rate that is far and away higher than they do at any other time. Hall pushes the play towards his opponent's net and he does it better than any other Oiler forward by leaps and bounds.
Furthermore, unlike Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, Hall wasn't the beneficiary of protected minutes. In actuality, Hall had the 4th toughest Quality of Competition among all Oiler forwards (Horcoff, Smyth and Hemsky were the top three). While playing significant opposition, Hall was simply the Oilers' best forward right up until being shut down for the season.
Going back to Jonathan's comment one more time, I think his final sentence sums up Taylor Hall perfectly: "At age 20, Hall is a tough-minutes ready winger who scored at a 36-goal pace and dominates the game when he's on the ice." To have a 20 year old player who can produce at his level and do so while providing protection for some of the other young players who are not yet capable of playing the tough minutes is truly a gift. Dominant is a word I hesitate to use with him just yet, but he is on the verge of becoming one of the league's truly dominant forwards.
I could argue with Jonathan's decision to put RNH at #1, but at the end of the day, it's irrelevant and it is more of a compliment to RNH than it is a criticism of Hall. I personally don't think RNH is there yet, but I understand how much there is to like about him. Still, for me, Hall is the class of a field that now boasts some incredibly impressive talent and the Oilers' should be counting their blessings that he is part of their franchise.
There are a number of interesting storylines surrounding Hall for the upcoming season including how quickly/effectively he recovers from his shoulder surgery, what kind of contract the team will sign him to and exactly how good Hall can be if given a healthy season. Given a potential lockout may allow him extra time to rehab his shoulder, the hope is certainly that by the time NHL hockey returns, that he is ready to play.
When the the Oilers are finally back on the ice and Hall returns to the line-up I fully expect people to come to the same realization that many of us made long ago...
Taylor Hall is really, really good.