By Chris Boyle
When Taylor Hall joined the Edmonton Oilers from the Windsor Spitfires, he did so with a near flawless resume.
The first pick overall in the 2010 NHL Draft was a two-time Memorial Cup champion, a World Under-18 Champion with Team Canada and a silver medal at the World Under-20 Championships.
He was a player who was defined as a winner and leader.
Once he joined the NHL, that perception slowly changed. And even though he captured multiple World Championships with Canada, he was continually passed over by Team Canada brass when constructing their rosters for the Olympic and World Cup.
Hockey expectations are extremely baffling when we consider what one player is responsible for during a 60-minute game. While Hall is a dominant play-driving winger, his responsibility ends when he is off the ice. The greatest leader in the world cannot coax superhuman results out of subpar individuals and to place those expectations on anybody is foolish.
Hall didn’t change. The perception of what he is did. When Peter Chiarelli joined the Oilers, he applied the same type of perception-based process that resulted in Boston losing the dynamic Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars.
Hall, at his best, is an elite possession player who gains the offensive zone with ease while dominating shot and goal metrics. His speed, tenacity and vision allow him to continually cause havoc for goaltenders because he forces them to move out of the comfort of straight lines. This type of east-west movement is integral to creating high-end scoring opportunities. This is the modern blueprint for a dominant scoring winger.
This shows up in his expected goal totals. When Hall was on the ice, the Oilers carried a .549% expected goal differential. For context, the Pittsburgh Penguins finished the season with a .546% goal differential. Hall wasn’t the issue in Edmonton, surrounding him with comparable players to him was. Hall maintained his end of the agreement, yet perception shifted to things that he was not responsible for.
When Hall was acquired, it was evident that he could create offense on his own. When we look deeper into the data than just the type of shots he individually creates, we can see how he manipulates the zone for his teammates. A player who was integral at consistently creating the type of plays that result in the highest scoring opportunities. The Devils stole a core piece that could drive this franchise for a decade.
At even strength (3-on-3, 4-on-4 and 5-on-5) Hall was on the ice for 689 shots for (totals do not include phantom shots registered). In order to establish quality, I sorted the shots when he was on the ice into Clear Sight, Slot-Line Passes, Tipped Shots and Rebound Shots. If Hall 1) took the shot or was responsible for 2) the pass that leads to the shot or 3) the shot that was tipped or 4) the shot that lead to the rebound shot, I credited him with being involved.
While his teammates did account for the majority of the overall volume of shots (64 percent), Hall was driving the shots in the highest scoring opportunities. If you make a goaltender move and don’t allow him to set his depth and angle, your chances to score increase from 5 percent to 28 percent.
If we look at Hall’s distribution, we see that the highest opportunity slot-line passes are almost exclusively created or finished by Hall (82 percent). Tipped shots (69 percent) and rebound shots (64 percent) also highlight heavy contributions from Hall. Of the 67.049 expected on-ice goals created during his shifts, Hall was directly involved in over half with 36.080 of them.
This shot creation is what you are looking for when you acquire elite offensive talent and is one of the prime reasons Hall is among the best forwards in the NHL. Because of his ability to gain the offensive zone on his own, he doesn’t need to be paired with elite puck-movers or a puck-moving center. He has the skillset to produce on his own, while making those around him better.
If the Devils place more talent around him, Hall will regain the perception as a winner and join Seguin among the decade’s biggest trade steals.