Taylor Hall is one of the more polarizing figures among today's hockey fans and analysts—you either love him or you hate him. If you type “Taylor Hall is” into Google, the first several suggestions are rather unkind, and yet he's frequently lauded by some analysts as practically an imminent Hart Trophy threat.
Personal opinions aside, analytics confirm Hall to be a speedy, penalty-drawing power-play specialist, an absolute puck-possession monster, and among the league’s five best in each of these areas.
His top-10 finish in assists (eighth) and points (ninth) last year was not a fluke caused by hot streaks, soft opponents or lucky percentages; it was the real deal. As the other Oilers forwards more fully develop this season, his superstar status will become far more obvious.
Who is Taylor Hall?
Surprisingly, Edmonton's young superstar is not the first NHL player named Taylor Hall. There was a young winger with the same name who played for the Canucks and the Bruins in the 1980s who scored 16 points in 41 career games.
This particular Taylor Hall was born in Calgary almost 22 years ago, the son of former CFL player and national bobsleigher Steve Hall. Hall moved to Kingston in 2005 (at age 13) and was drafted second overall by the Windsor Spitfires in the 2007 OHL entry draft two years later, right after Ryan O'Reilly. Interestingly he was also drafted into the KHL two years later, 89th overall.
The Spitfires won two consecutive Memorial Cups in 2009 and 2010, with Hall winning the Stafford Smythe award for tournament MVP both seasons. Playing alongside Adam Henrique, Hall scored an amazing 71 points in those 39 combined games.
Selected by the Edmonton Oilers first overall in 2010, ahead of Tyler Seguin in a tough decision still debated today, Taylor Hall and his agent Bobby Orr received the highest rookie contract in Oilers history, and permission to wear Kevin Lowe's jersey number (four). They would go on to sign a seven-year extension at $6.0 million per season—which made him the highest-paid Oiler at the time.
In the NHL, Hall established a very aggressive playing style that resulted in some great plays, but at the risk of injury—he missed 38 games in his first two seasons, including several months for shoulder surgery. His reputation is one that involves real passion for the game. When he plays he always wants the puck, isn't afraid to mix it up or get hurt and seems to up his game in key situations.
Of course, that's just his reputation, what do the numbers say?
How is Hall Used?
To avoid misinterpreting statistics, it is always prudent to first consider their context. In this case, that's knowing how and when Hall is used.
Hall always has one of the highest offensive zone start percentages on his team, but also against top competition. Based on the quality of competition estimates at Behind the Net, Hall was fourth among Oilers forwards in his first two seasons, and second last year. That being said, Edmonton historically hasn’t been that disciplined or effective with the whole line-matching thing.
As for the quality of his linemates, Hall has always played with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as of (most of) 2011-12. Hall has only 433 combined seconds of penalty-killing time over his first three seasons. Long story short, Hall is used in a strictly offensive fashion, but against the league's best, especially last season.
Hall is a Possession Monster
Taylor Hall is known as one of the league's top possession monsters. Analytics aren't even needed to reach that conclusion. It's almost like night and day in Edmonton when Hall is on the ice and when he isn't. While much of the team slaps the puck up the ice and chases it around, Hall gets the puck on his stick and just refuses to give it up. It's quite a stark contrast.
In analytic terms this uncanny ability is measured in a statistic called Relative Corsi. This is simply the team's attempted shot differential per 60 minutes when the player is on the ice compared with when he's not. Double-digit scores are excellent, and Hall is trending up, with scores of 10.3, 15.2 and 20.4 throughout this career (source: Behind the Net).
In fairness, part of these great scores comes from having great linemates and offensive playing conditions on a team with particularly disappointing depth lines. They are nonetheless impressive scores, bested over the past three seasons by only Alexander Steen, Patrice Bergeron, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Max Pacioretty and Justin Williams.
Hall is a Power-Play Specialist
Edmonton's power play has been absolutely deadly for the past two seasons. While Justin Schultz and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are without question the superstars at setting up the play, Taylor Hall is the one finishing them.
Hall was fifth in power-play goals in 2011-12, despite missing 21 games. Even with the missing games and his merely mortal rookie season, Hall still ranks 16th in the NHL with 25 power-play goals over the past three years.
On a per-60 minutes basis, Hall's true goal-scoring talent with the man advantage shines through. Hall’s amazing 2.94 goals per 60 minutes over the past three seasons is second only to Logan Couture (3.12)—in comparison, Alexander Ovechkin scores just 2.52.
He's not just a goal scorer, but also a great playmaker. In fact, his estimated 250 setup passes in all manpower situations combined last year was the highest total in the NHL.
This helped his even-strength scoring rate really break out last year. After his first two seasons scoring 1.85 and 2.05 points per 60 minutes respectively, both marks still safely above the 1.7 level required of top-six forwards, Hall scored 3.13 last year. In fact, he set his career high for overall even-strength points this last year (36) despite many fewer games.
Hall is a Penalty Drawing Machine
Finally, Taylor Hall is an absolute penalty-drawing fiend. Over the past three years, Hall's drawn an average of 1.8 minor penalties per 60 minutes, while taking only 0.7 himself. That puts him in exclusive company that only includes Darren Helm, Dustin Brown, Jeff Skinner and Nazem Kadri. Drawing penalties is just one of those undervalued talents that makes players like Hall truly great.
So, will Taylor Hall ascend to superstar status in 2013-14 NHL season? Surprisingly the answer is no, because he already has. The real question is when his superstar status will finally achieve full recognition.
To the observant eye, Hall is one of the league's fastest and most skilled players who gets the puck on his stick like a magnet, just refusing to let it go. Not only do the analytics confirm this assessment, but they also identify him as one of the league's top 10 at everything from puck possession, power-play scoring and drawing penalties.
As the rest of the team develops around him, it is only a matter of time before Hall's true superstar status becomes far more obvious to everyone.
All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.
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