Under Pressure: Taylor Hall

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This is part of New Jersey Devils day at PHT…

When it comes to Taylor Hall, let’s start with this right up front: If you ranked the top-five left wingers in hockey, Hall should not only be somewhere on your list, he should very close to the top of it.

He is a dynamic forward with top-line ability (and the production to match it) that is right now in the prime of his career. So putting him in the “under pressure” category probably isn’t entirely fair. Especially when he has yet to actually play in a single game for the Devils and has had nothing to do with the past four years of disappointment in New Jersey. 

You know he is going to play well, you know he is going to produce.

But hockey, and the way we sometimes analyze it, isn’t always fair.

Hall is a fascinating case because he has had the misfortune of spending the past six years as the best player (a very good player! A top player in the NHL!) on the worst team hockey. That is the worst possible position for any player to be in during his NHL career. It can, and will, drag down their reputation through no fault of their own. When it comes to Hall, that kind of seems to be happening a little bit. 

Even though he has been one of the most productive left wingers in hockey since he entered the league as a No. 1 pick in 2010, he doesn’t always get a lot of credit for it.

Even worse, when a bad team like Edmonton trades a top player like Hall it is usually sold as “changing the culture” or some other argument that is usually framed around throwing blame at the top player for not single handedly lifting a bad team to success. That line was even starting to surface in Edmonton two years before this trade happened (and under Edmonton’s previous front office) when Dallas Eakins was fired and blame was starting to get assigned for what went wrong. 

Then when defenseman Oscar Klefbom made the recent comments about Hall and his teammates not playing well against top teams in bigger games, it ignited another round of debate about Hall’s impact and the type of player he really is. Klefbom later tried to clarify his comments, but by that point it didn’t really matter, the seeds had already been planted and the conversation raged on.

With Hall, there seems to be more focus on what his team hasn’t done (and lately who he does and does not score goals against) than the fact he has been one of the best players in the world at his position. 

When you combine those discussions with the fact that he is joining a Devils team that has desperately needed a forward with his type of game-breaking ability, it just seems like there is going to be a lot riding on Hall to have a big season.

Not only to provide the team with a top-line winger that has game-changing ability, but also so he can silence some of the doubts and criticisms that have surfaced about his play simply because he spent so many years playing on a bad team.