Taylor Hall; Fame In New Jersey

It ain’t easy being Taylor Hall.

Here’s a man who has totaled 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in his last 25 games with the New Jersey Devils.

Hold on; that’s not all. He’s just the eighth different player in the last 30 years to record at least a point in 25 or more consecutive appearances. This even after he missed three games with an injury before kick-starting his streak.

You don’t have to be a Figure Filbert to know how tough it is when you’re expected to score a point in every single National Hockey League game.

The thing is, New Jersey’s candidate for the Hart Trophy keeps making it harder on himself.

Heading into Tuesday night’s game in Newark against Montreal, Hall has established a team record for points in consecutive games. What’s more, he seemed to do it almost as easy as exhaling.

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“I’m a more confident person. Last year was — I wouldn’t say a whirlwind, but a lot of big changes,” Hall said at practice Tuesday morning. “Right away at training camp, I felt a lot more comfortable with my surroundings, my coaching staff, with the group around me. That’s a good feeling for a person like myself.

“Early in my career, I used to set goals for points and goals. I don’t do that anymore. I just want to keep improving as a hockey player.”

That the Calgary native has accomplished that feat is evident, simply by comparing his current performances with those of last season.

The Hall who emigrated to Newark from Edmonton via the trade of defenseman Adam Larsson to the Oilers was erratic, at best, in 2016-17.

A Hart Trophy was not in his dream as the Devils finished 28-40-14 and Taylor totaled 20 goals and 53 points. Clearly, he needed time adjusting to the traumatic move in his life and adjust to the new surroundings.

“Hall’s maturation this year reminds me of an ace pitcher in baseball or a quarterback in football,” New York Times hockey writer Allan Kreda told me. “He needed time to improve.

“His leadership qualities and relentless drive have turned him into a true star; one who’s worthy of the Hart Trophy.”

Surely, Taylor’s game this semester fits the template for a most valuable player. Without his production, the Garden Staters might very well have been plumbing the NHL depths rather than challenging for a playoff berth.

But how does Hall see himself as a player?

Hall: “I think I’m more of a playmaker than a natural goal scorer. Goal scoring is something that I really had to learn how to do at this pace, but with a little bit of luck on your side, you look a little better.

“I definitely like to create plays and pass a bit more than score, but at the same time, you want to be a versatile player and you want to be something that the other team doesn’t expect.”

As NHL Senior Reporter E.J. Hradek has noticed, Hall is more motivated than at any time in his eight-year career.

“He’s never played so many meaningful games as he has this time of year,” Hradek explained. “If the Devils make the playoffs, his name definitely will be in the mix for the Hart.

“Taylor doesn’t have the kind of support system that a Patrice Bergeron has with David Krejci behind him. In Hall’s case, he’s the driving force of the Devils. He’s leading the charge.”

No question, Hall will be leaned on as never before in his career from now until early April when the regular season marathon ends.

Taylor: “These games all feel important. The points feel more important and, for me, that’s a really good feeling.”

Suddenly in media demand, Hall agreed to an NHL-sponsored conference call request on Tuesday afternoon. When I asked him about his handling of this added pressure, he told me that it has not bothered him.

“I’m OK with it (the pressure) and don’t feel it that much,” he insisted. “The pressure is more so for our team to make the playoffs.”

His teammates are reveling in Hall’s success.

“He’s been a horse,” is the way captain Andy Greene succinctly put it.

Stefan Noesen: “He’s driving our team; leading it on the ice and so humble and such a good person in the locker room. The way he’s playing, Taylor is pushing us to play for him. It’s making our team unified.”

Interestingly, the Devils have never boasted a Hart Trophy-winner. Nor did the Colorado Rockies. Nor the Kansas City Scouts, who came before the residents of The Rock.

Not surprisingly, Taylor’s lodge members — especially Captain Greene — give Hall a realistic chance to take the Hart to his heart.

“The way I see it,” Greene asserted, “Taylor is up with the top-3.”

Results from the mid-season Hart Trophy voting had Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov, Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and the Islanders John Tavares finishing 1-2-3 in the balloting.

Hall’s late-season surge certainly should change that, especially if he maintains his momentum, although that will be no easy task. However, his motivation remains strong.

“He’s got plenty of motivation to go with his skill,” added teammate Brian Boyle. “The thing is he’s reached a different level now. What the rest of us have to do now is kick it up a notch to take the pressure off him.

“He’s impressive in that Taylor is the same guy every game; always pushing every one of us and himself. I think he’s having a lot of fun.”

With that in mind, regular Devils-watchers such as the club’s All-Access Host and beat reporter Amanda Stein like his chances for the Hart.

“When you consider the way Taylor has taken this team on his back — not just in important games but in every single game from the get-go,” said Stein, “he needs to be looked at for the Hart.”

Steve Cangialosi and Ken Daneyko reflect on Taylor Hall's value to the Devils and what his worth is to the team both on and off the ice.

That’s why the Devils games Tuesday and Thursday — at home against Winnipeg — before a six-game road trip starting Saturday against Nashville will be so pivotal, both to the team and Hall.

“These are big games,” Hradek concluded, “so a lot — when it comes to Hart voting — will depend on what happens in the remainder of the season.”

Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, pointed out that teammates do not discuss Hall’s streak. It’s a matter of superstition.

“We feel that it’s like baseball when a pitcher is tossing a no-hitter,” said Lovejoy. “Or a goalie pitching a shutout. We don’t talk about it.”

But Hall talked plenty Tuesday and when The Maven shot the “pressure” question, Taylor fired home the rebound.

“I’ll take a zero point night for a Devils win any time!”

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