2010 prospects: Taylor Hall

By Scott Mitchell

When John Tavares heard his name called by the New York Islanders in June, Taylor Hall was on the clock.

He is the new No. 1 ranked prospect who will go through a season of hype, scrutiny and projections, all the while trying to focus on playing hockey and defending a Memorial Cup championship.

In fact, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 OHL Draft who scored 45 goals in his rookie season and 38 last year, in addition to 16 in 20 playoff games, has had a taste of the scrutiny already.

"There was one thing on TSN where they said some scouts would have taken me No. 1 this year and some had me down at No. 8," Hall laughed this summer while visiting his birthplace of Calgary to visit friends and family.

Hall tried to observe Tavares last season, knowing it would soon be him in the spotlight.

"Whenever we’re together at all-star games or the ADT Challenge or anything like that I always talk to him and I feel like we have a connection because I know what he’s going through and he knows what I’m going to go through," Hall said.

While Hall’s season with the Windsor Spitfires couldn’t have ended any better – -a Mem Cup title and being named MVP of tournament — he did go through his struggles in the 38-goal, 52-assist season.

"Before the World Juniors I was having the kind of season that I would have liked to have had," Hall recalled. "I was up there in scoring and the team wasn’t losing very much at all. But then I got cut and from there on everything seemed to kind of go downhill for about 20 games and I just didn’t have a lot of confidence.

"I can look back and say that I didn’t have a very good second half of the year, but I ended the season well and I’m proud of that."

Getting cut from the World Junior team at 17 years old is nothing new, but it was Hall’s first experience with rejection in the hockey realm.

"To be honest, I don’t think I was expecting to make the team and that was probably my problem and that’s why I didn’t make it," Hall said.

With a title to defend, a World Junior team to make and a No.1 prospect status to uphold, the 6-foot-1 185-pound winger doesn’t expect to have a problem focusing or handling the pressure.

"I’m expecting some pressure, obviously, but I’ve said this many times before, I think pressure is something I thrive under,’ he said. "I had a really good playoffs and a strong Memorial Cup so I really think I play well in that. I want to be the player in the spotlight and I want to be the player everyone is talking about."

Even when he wasn’t playing up to his own standards offensively last season, he finds ways to chip in — he makes sure of it.

"I was still playing well in the defensive zone and I was still contributing on the penalty kill, I just wasn’t fulfilling my offensive capabilities," he said. "I think the way I stay focused is just trying to contribute to a really good winning team. As long as I concentrate on just contributing and being a good teammate and being a good leader and a good penalty killer and stuff like that, I’ll have the season I want to have."

Hall will continue to focus on that aspect, as well as adding pounds to his maturing frame.

"This summer I’ve been working on getting a bit bigger and a bit stronger so hopefully I can push some guys around next year," he grinned. "I want to be a really good defensive player; not only be around for my offensive abilities, but be relied on defensively and just be a player the coach can rely on in the last minute of the game.
"You can score as many goals as you want, but if you’re a liability in the defensive zone you’re no use to the team."

It’s that type of maturity and attitude, not to mention his speed, release and other array of offensive skills, that has scouts drooling.

He says it’s not a goal to be the No. 1 overall pick, but he wouldn’t mind it.

"Probably not a goal, maybe an accomplishment," he said of the 2010 NHL Draft. "I think if I do everything I’m supposed to do… that will happen. It’s not really a goal. If I don’t go No. 1 overall it’s not going to be the end of the world, but if I do, I’ll be proud of myself.

"No matter how my season goes and how the draft goes I want to put myself in position to play in the NHL next year. Obviously, I’ll have to gain weight and get stronger but I think I have the confidence to do so."

Hall has relied heavily on his parents, Steve and Kim, as well as the Spitfires duo of former NHLers Bob Boughner and Warren Rychel.

"They went up through the ranks and they know what it’s like," his said of his coach and general manager. "They played junior and they know how they wanted to be treated as a junior player.

"Every day I’m learning something, whether it’s Bob (Boughner) on the ice or Warren (Rychel) in the dressing room."

While Hall tears up the OHL and has called Ontario home since he was 13, he heads out west every year to catch up.  Sometimes he finds himself wondering how he’d be doing in the WHL.

"You know, sometimes I do," he said when asked if he thinks about staying in Calgary. "I don’t know how high I would have gone in the WHL Draft or anything like that, but I try not to think about it. The way it’s worked out in Kingston has been really good so far and I can’t ask for anything more."

Training with his father, a former bobsledder, six days a week this summer has him prepared for the season.

Legs, legs, legs has been the mantra.

"I want to get stronger and keep my skating strong, the upper body stuff will come in time," he said.

Hall can’t wait to get the season going and proving the scouts right. As far as the interviews, he’s ready for them, too.

One down, many more to go.