The buzz surrounding Taylor Hall has been palpable since the 2008-09 season, when he had an outstanding performance with the Windsor Spitfires which culminated in the OHL and Memorial Cup championships. The 17-year-old left winger won MVP honors in Rimouski at the Memorial Cup (16 goals, 36 points in 20 postseason games), as Windsor became the first team ever to win the tourney after going 0-2 in the first two games of the round robin format.
After that, Hall's place as the first overall pick in 2010 seemed to be a fait accompli, but a major run by Plymouth Whalers center Tyler Seguin (they tied each other for the OHL's scoring championship, though Seguin had more goals) has made the top selection in Los Angeles a tossup at this point.
Hall is a blazing skater with high-end puck skills who is a threat to score every time he's on the ice. He had a strong World Jr. Championship tournament, helping Canada to a silver medal, while dazzling scouts in the process with several highlight reel goals. He has good athletic bloodlines as well; his father, Steve, was a wide receiver for the Ottawa Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL.
After 84- and 90-point seasons with Windsor, Hall broke the century mark this year with 40 goals and 106 points in 50 OHL games in 2009-10.
With the OHL playoffs getting underway, Hall is in the position to stake a firm claim on being the top selection in the NHL draft, and he took some time out of his busy schedule to speak to B2010DW.
Bruins2010DraftWatch: Can you talk a little bit about the differences between last season and this season for you in Windsor and what your ulimtate goals are?
Taylor Hall: Obviously, our team's success last year was fantastic. Anytime you're part of a championship team and you top it off with an MVP award, it's great and becomes a real tough act to follow. This year has been different for me, but the important thing has been the team's continued success. We're taking everything in steps and focusing on individual things like winning the regular season, then the OHL playoffs and trying to get to the Memorial Cup (in Brandon, Manitoba) to defend our title. We have a lot of great guys and the coaches have worked real hard with us, so things are coming together pretty well, but there's still a lot to do.
B2010DW: How has the progression been for you in the OHL with Windsor in terms of your development to date?
TH: Obviously, I came in as a pretty young kid, so I've learned a lot since I first started skating here with Windsor. I love being a team player, and when you're with a group of guys like the team we have, it's a lot of fun to come to the rink everyday. Winning the Memorial Cup was unbelievable, and we want to do it again, and I think that because we were able to win it all last year, we have an appreciation for how hard an accomplishment that is. I've just tried to play my game and contribute goals and points wherever I can, and I think the team relies on me for offense. It's a big part of what I do, and I get the support from my teammates and coaches to do that.
B2010DW: What are your thoughts on the challenges you face in the OHL playoffs?
TH: I think the East (Conference) is very good. There's a team (Barrie Colts) that has beaten us twice and they are a tough matchup for us. I think it will be the kind of intense playoff atmosphere you see every year, so we're just going to have to focus on keeping things simple and playing our game. Obviously, our team has had a lot of success and we have a lot of guys who experienced a championship last year, so I'd say that's an advantage for us.
B2010DW: Barrie has Alexander Burmistrov, another high-end 2010 draft candidate. What do you think of him based on what you've seen this year?
TH: He's a very good player who has a ton of speed. He might be a bit undersized, but his skill level is unbelievable. He's been very good for Barrie this year and made the adjustment (to the OHL) pretty easily.
B2010DW: You've had so much attention on you for going on two years now. Are you going to be glad when the draft is done and you know what your immediate future holds for the NHL?
TH: I think so. Obviously, the draft is something I think about just because there's so much attention paid to it, especially as we get closer to June. But at the same time, I've got the rest of the season to play and trying to win the OHL championship and a Memorial Cup title to defend, so those are the things that are more important right now and where my attention is. The draft is exciting to think about, and I'll be glad when the time comes, but right now, there's still a lot of hockey to be played.