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Game #18 – Devils vs. Hawks: Spotlight – I’d Like To Meet His Taylor

It’s been over a year since Peter Chiarelli shipped out Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. It remains no less funny, especially as the Oilers grasp and claw for anyone beyond Run CMD and Leon Draisaitl that can a) score and B) move at something more than a glacial pace.

Hall bore the brunt of criticism in Edmonton, more than their other #1 picks did when things didn’t work. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins seems to have ducked most of the ire, even though no one’s been able to adequately able to explain what it is he actually does. Nail Yakupov was a bust, but also had the good fortune of just being the #1 pick in whatever everyone said was a weak draft. Jordan Eberle was tossed overboard only this summer.

And yet you can’t overstate the mistake here.

In the past four seasons, the only players with a better xGF% relative to their team than Hall are Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, who are basically joined at the hip. They’re considered the best even-strength players in the league and have been for some time. Is Hall? Why not? By that measure, which is the best indicator not just of where you’re getting the puck but what you’re doing with it and what you’re allowing your opponents to do, Hall is right there with them. And while Bergeron and Marchand have each other to help out, some of Hall’s most common linemates the past four years are names like Teddy Purcell, a rookie Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, and Travis Zajac. Not that a lot of these guys are bad players, but Bergeron they are not.

Hall doesn’t quite have the analytic numbers this year so far, but that hasn’t stopped him from being the Devils leading scorer and averaging a point-per-game. And he’s doing it with a teenager in Nico Hischler and a corpse in Drew Stafford. Hall will drag the Devils into relevance if it kills him.

Even better for Hall, he’s not far away from calling his own shots. After this season he’ll have two years left on his deal before he hits free agency. And after getting shafted over by the Oilers, he’s earned the right to pick his next spot. He could even force it by asking out of New Jersey if he doesn’t like the look of the rebuild, and with two years to go that’s when he would be at maximum value for the Devils if he made it clear he wasn’t going to stick around.

If Hall were to hit free agency at 27, he’d be one of the more hotly pursued free agents of the past decade. Stamkos never got there, Tavares would be the other name you’d think of this year. It wouldn’t be too dissimilar to when Marian Hossa hit free agency in 2008 and 2009. It would be quite the race for his signature.

Still, Hall might like the look of what’s building in Newark. Hischler could be the #1 center the Devils have been crying out for to move Henrique and Zajac down to their proper slots (though Zajac is aging). Cory Schneider should be a premier goaltender a little while longer yet, but the Devils are clearly going to need more to keep Hall interested in staying.

Either way, he deserves to tear a hole into the Earth. He should be more than the set-up to a great punchline of a trade that helped sink Connor McDavid’s time in Edmonton.

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