The rookie seasons of Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have set the bar pretty high for players coming into the NHL. Both Crosby and Ovechkin broke the 100 point barrier in their first seasons in the NHL, raising expectations for first overall picks for years to come. Patrick Kane and Steven Stamkos, both recent first overall picks themselves, have put together resumes that aren’t too shabby either.
This is what has made it tough for players like Taylor Hall. Every year we’re bombarded with stories of the next young player that will save a franchise. In the weeks and months leading up to the draft, these young saviours are often the only bright light for struggling hockey teams.
Players like Crosby and Ovechkin and Kane have rejuvenated franchises. They’ve been the primary building blocks that have helped drag their teams out of the basement of the league and into the upper echelon. So now, each season begins with a struggling team looking to a teenager to lead them to the promise land.
That’s really not fair.
Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are generational talents. You simply do not find these players in every draft. The fact that the two of them were drafted in back-to-back years has made us forget that.
That said, the NHL is a younger game now. It’s faster. The hits are harder. Endurance and skill are more important now than they have been in years. Once you add in the salary cap to this equation, it’s easy to see why teams place so much hope in their rookies. These players make far less money on their rookie contracts than they will in the future, so their cost versus their potential output makes them an excellent value. But is it fair to expect every rookie to be Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin?
Of course not.
And that brings us to Taylor Hall, the latest in the line of heavily-hyped players to go first overall. Hall is a talented player and he will likely achieve great things in the NHL. However, he doesn’t need to be rushed. In five games with the Edmonton Oilers this year, he has only one assist. Hall is not playing badly. He doesn’t look out of place in the NHL. But there is still speculation that he will be returned to OHL before he plays ten games in the big leagues. This would mean the first year of his entry level contact (and his lower salary) would not be used up until next season.
The Oilers will likely not be all that competitive this season. Hall will likely not set the world on fire and single-handedly bring the team to the playoffs. That’s okay. For Edmonton it might make sense to return Hall to the juniors and have him mature and grow while the Oilers do the same. He would then be able to play his rookie year in the NHL next season when he is bigger, stronger and more effective as a player. Edmonton would be able to have Hall on their roster in four years at $900,000 rather than paying several million.
Will the move hurt Hall’s development? It’s not likely. In fact, keeping him in the NHL with the pressure of saving the franchise may hurt him more. It has to be difficult for a teenager to deal with those expectations.
On that note, will Tyler Seguin remain with the Bruins? He has one goal and two assists on the season (Leaf fans, Phil Kessel has five goals and two assists.) It may pay off for the Bruins and for Seguin to return him to the juniors as well.
Not every rookie needs to immediately make a Crosby- or Ovechkin-like impact. They don’t all need to be forced into the spotlight at a young age. Sometimes these players need time to grow.