In my NHL pre-season predictions post this morning, I added a note about Taylor Hall – basically, look out for this kid, because I could see him having a big year this year.
The friend I was talking with about Hall (ex-UNH captain Josh Ciocco) also shared this thought – the kid played for Windsor of the OHL during the two seasons prior to being an Oiler, where they won the whole thing both years.
What that means is, Hall had little to no time to develop physically during both off-seasons, simply because his seasons went so long. This is the first full summer he’s had to dedicate himself to putting on the mass he needs to thrive at the NHL level. And hey, he was in Edmonton – dude had a looong off-season.
I have first hand knowledge of the difficulties that come with playing against guys stronger than you – as pro, I was 6’2″ and about 185, which is hardly an imposing number for a hockey player.
High center of gravity and little to no muscle? Ooo, heaven forbid you have to play against that guy.
When I got called up to the American Hockey League, I found out what it’s like to play against MEN (there’s a sizable jump from the ECHL to the AHL, in both size and speed. The jump from the AHL to the NHL is considerably smaller). You’re not facing young prospects or on-the-decline veterans in the “A” - instead, there a number of seriously jacked, very large humans. Hell, I roomed with Kip Brennan (shown below with knuckles full of face). Good lord.
Yeah, there’s some intimidating people.
But it’s not the monsters that make it tough on you as a skill guy, it’s the 6’2″ 202 pound defenseman with square shoulders, a strong core and no body fat. They don’t even look big on the ice (especially since I’m a fair height myself – we look the same in gear), but man, are some of these guys strong.
The frustrations add up. When you’re trying to win a puck battle, you usually end up back-checking. When you make a great move and step around a defender, a simple shove on the way by can take you far enough off course to get caught by someone else. You can’t fight through anything to get to the areas you need to be at in order to showcase your skill.
When a guy like Hall still manages to put up some points when he’s not as strong as others, the future is bright. Your conversion rate has to be pretty damn high to do that – when you see the smaller Jeff Skinner tallying points, it’s tough to imagine where the ceiling is for some of these guys.
So watch the sophomores around the league this year. You’ll be able to tell whose numbers will improve if they can protect the puck better, win more battles and stay on their feet more.
It’s exactly why I’m expecting so much from Hall (and Stamkos, remarkably still young and growing at 21). It’s no fun getting pushed around out there. Once that starts to happen less, chances, and therefore numbers, will inevitably go up.