Training camps have yet to begin and yet Oiler fans are already salivating over the new faces of the franchise.
How does this sound, "Hall down the left wing, dishes to Svensson-Paajarvi, Paajarvi drops for Eberle, and he scores!"
Or maybe, "Hemsky with the shot, stopped, Hall in on the rebound, and puts it away top shelf!" has a nicer ring to it?
While this season promises to bring an exciting and entertaining brand of hockey to a market desperate for a jolt, what it doesn't guarantee is wins. What it also doesn't guarantee is any amount of success for any player, regardless of seniority or hype.
For every Alexander Ovechkin, there is an Alexandre Daigle, and for every Jaroslav Halak there is a Rick DiPietro. So what would a diehard Oiler fan expect out of Taylor Hall, and will “The Fall For Hall,” as the Facebookers dubbed it, yield immediate dividends?
While there are no formulas to predict how any player will do, there are points to consider. For starters, consider that Hall played this season on the best team in Canadian Junior Hockey, the Windsor Spitfires. The average junior hockey club has three to four players that have been or will be drafted. The Spitfires team that Hall scored 106 points for in 2009-10 had 13 players, or half the roster, that had been drafted by NHL organizations.
Of all players in the CHL, no one had a better supporting cast than Hall, whose teammates included Ryan Ellis, widely considered the best junior offensive defenseman, 12th overall pick Cam Fowler, and Buffalo Sabres first round pick Zack Kassian. Greg Nemisz and Austin Watson, two more recent first round picks in the NHL Entry Draft, also played with Hall.
Without discrediting Hall at all, would the 106 points he put up in that final year in the OHL have been any different had he not lucked into playing with a team so ridiculously loaded with talent? This season he will not have the luxury of two premiere defensemen feeding him the puck, nor will he have a big-bodied center making room for him as he did in Windsor with Nemisz. Hall will be entering a situation in Edmonton the polar opposite of Windsor: a very limited supporting cast, and a team far away from seriously contending.
Another factor is the underwhelming rookie seasons we’ve seen the past two years. In this time, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares have been the first overall selections at the Entry Draft, and both have had pedestrian freshman campaigns. Neither topped 60 points, and the hype they came in with made their otherwise decent rookie numbers look disappointing.
What makes Taylor Hall’s situation in Edmonton different is that he is entering the season with young players that have as much potential for NHL stardom as he does, and players that are otherwise largely unproven in the hockey world. This group includes the obvious, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Svensson, but also the veterans. Can Ales Hemsky finally have that breakout season we’ve been predicting for the past few years? And will Dustin Penner prove that his 60-point season wasn’t a fluke?
This is a similar situation to that of John Tavares and Steven Stamkos, except for the fact that the players Hall will play with offer much more potential than the supporting cast of Tavares and Stamkos. How long before fans get to see that potential though?
Based on the above factors, 45 points would be a diehard Oilers fan’s realistic expectation of Taylor Hall this season, 17 goals and 28 assists. However much hype and talent there may be in a player, an adjustment as big as major junior to the National Hockey League will take time and require patience from everyone, especially during the franchise rebuild that’s currently taking place in Edmonton. “The Fall For Hall” will be worth the pain and suffering of 2009-10, but it will be a few years before fans get to witness its full glory.