Taylor Hall: Expectations vs. Reality
On June 29th, New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero pulled off a blockbuster move that sent defenseman Adam Larsson to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for forward Taylor Hall. The general consensus amongst those in the Devils community feel that the move was a necessary one and will play a role in bringing Jersey’s Team back into the playoff fold. But just what can fans truly expect to get out of the young Hall?
To begin with, giving away Larsson for Hall immediately filled a need that the Devils system has been lacking since the 2011-2012 season: offense. The Devils have been at the bottom of the league totals in team offense for the past few seasons, but a player with the dynamic of Hall should begin to right the ship.
So far in his young NHL career, Hall has put up solid numbers. In 381 games, he has tallied 132 goals and 196 assists for 328 points and is a career +/- of -27. In the 2015-2016 season, Hall put up 26 goals and 39 assists for 65 points in a full slate of 82 games, with a +/- of -4.
The fact that he has not yet cracked 30 goals in a season should be no cause for alarm, as the Edmonton teams he has been a part of have been sorely lacking in terms of results so to say. Hall, however, is a player that makes those around him better, much like Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, two formers Devils who were around for New Jersey’s last playoff appearance, which was a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.
The trade for Hall also goes to show the mentality that Shero now has for the Devils. It is not necessarily a win-now environment, but that it will take time and progress to make the Devils a Cup contender once again. Whereas in previous years former general manager Lou Lamoriello tried to keep the Devils a playoff team by signing veteran players he felt could assist, Shero has shown that a youth movement was just what the doctor ordered.
Perhaps a change of scenery was just what the former Rookie of the Year winner needed. The expectations that come with being a number one overall pick in the NHL are massive, and being one of the leaders of a young team can build the pressure to insurmountable odds at times. With the Devils however, Hall comes to a team already established with veteran leaders and instead of being the main voice of reason in the locker room, Hall can instead provide a supporting one as he still finds his way.
One of the players that Hall both has a history with and will most likely find as a linemate for the 2016-2017 season is that of fan favorite Adam Henrique. Henrique has been a bright spot for the Devils since he burst on the scene for them in the 2011-2012 campaign and has been one of their most consistent scorers since then. He immediately made an impact playing on a line with Kovalchuk and helped propel the Devils to their first Cup appearance since 2003 and has not looked back. Let’s not forget, he scored one of the most memorable goals in Devils history.
In the 349 games of his career to this point, Henrique had put up 98 goals and 105 assists for 203 points and has a career +/- of 13. Just last season, Henrique saw action in 80 games and totaled 30 goals and 20 assists for 50 points and had a +/- of 10.
Hall and Henrique both played together with the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League. With Henrique serving as Hall’s center, the two put up amazing numbers and brought two consecutive Memorial Cups to the Spitfires organization in 2009 and 2010. The very hint of the two of them being back together on the same line should excite even the most fairweather Devils fan. It is also no surprise the two have already shared their excitement about the possibility of playing together again and bringing that success they found in the juniors into the NHL fold.
While only 24, Hall still has many years of hockey ahead of him and he has only begun to scratch the surface of his true potential. He gives the Devils a threat in nearly all facets of the game from even strength, to the power play and even the shootout, an area the Devils have lacked since the departure of Parise and Kovalchuk.
Perhaps the most exciting notion for the Devils organization is that Hall is locked up until the 2020-2021 season at $6 million per season, making him now the Devils’ highest paid forward. That will bring him to when he is 28 years old and still a player very much in the prime of his career. With Henrique being 26 years old and with the Devils until his current contract expires in the 2019-2020 season, this gives the Devils two very promising young stars a chance to become the anchors of a team poised for future success.
Just what can Devils fans truly expect out of a player like Hall? Simply put, they can expect many things but the jury is still out on whether those expectations will become a reality. He could be an answer for the team’s lacking offense. He could be a savior when it comes to the shootout. He could fill the role of a top line winger and put up solid numbers playing with Henrique. All of these are reasonable expectations, but as many hockey fans know, sports are a results oriented business.
Now, to the reality Devils fans must assess. Hall shown that he can score and serve a role as a top line winger and could very well be one of the answers to help the team’s offensive woes. While he does have history with Henrique, time will tell as to whether or not the chemistry between the two is still there, or if they will be two ships passing in the night, longing for the riches of years gone by. Hall will surpass all of his career highs for a single season while being a member of the Devils, and may very well do so in the 2016-2017 campaign.
One of the knocks on Hall is that his defensive side to his game make him a liability, but he has shown improvement in those areas and has grown into a stronger two-way player. Entering a franchise that historically prides itself on a defense-first mentality, it will be interesting to see how Hall fits into the mold. With head coach John Hynes taking a more offensive type style to the team’s attack, Hall and the Devils should be primed for great things.
Yet, there remain some lingering questions that must have a place in the minds of those who feel Hall will fulfill their expectations of him. While during his six years with the Oilers, they failed to qualify for the playoffs every year. What type of player will Hall be once the magnifying glass becomes fixated upon him should the Devils make the postseason? Will he be someone to thrive under the pressure, or will he wilt away in the white-hot heat of the spotlight? Can Hall reach his career potential being a number one pick and lead a team to not only the playoffs but a Stanley Cup Championship as well? But these answers need not worry the Devils faithful. If anything, they should be salivating at the fact of seeing these questions answered in the near future.
Altogether, the Larsson for Hall trade was one the Devils needed to get done, and fans should laud Shero as the man who managed to pull it off. While Larsson was still in the early stages of his career, the opportunity to get a player of Hall’s ability and stature would have been too good to pass up. If anything, the trade made the summer a little bit longer for hockey fans in the Garden State because now this gives them a glimmer of hope that the Devils’ fortunes may have just turned the corner and that a cloudy future may have just seen its first glimmer of sunshine.