PENTICTON, B.C. – Taylor Hall has company in the Edmonton Oilers’ spotlight. And he welcomes it.
The No. 1 pick in the NHL draft in June is trying to crack the Oilers lineup at the same time as Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle, who are Edmonton’s first-round picks the last two years respectively.
“It’s a lot different than a lot of other situations that I could have gone to and I find myself very lucky to have been drafted by a Canadian city and a franchise that’s up and coming and has a lot of potential,” Hall said.
“Hopefully all the three of us can have a really good camp and crack the squad and make a big difference.”
Hall is the centre of attention at the five-team Young Stars Tournament this week because of his status as this year’s first pick. Eberle and Paajarvi bring full resumes of eye-catching accomplishments.
Eberle, selected 22nd overall by the Oilers two years ago, is well known to Canadians as a clutch goal-scorer for his country in back-to-back world junior hockey championships. He’s Canada’s all-time leader in goals in that tournament with 14.
The 21-year-old from Regina concluded his junior career scoring 50 goals for his hometown Pats and was named the Western Hockey League’s most valuable player.
Within weeks of his season ending, the five-foot-10, 174-pound forward was summoned to play for Canada at the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Germany.
Paajarvi, drafted 10th overall last year, was the youngest player ever chosen to play for Sweden’s junior team two years ago at 16 years, eight months.
The youngster assisted on Mikael Backlund’s overtime goal against Russia in the semifinal, which launched Sweden into the final against Canada. Now 20, he led Sweden in scoring at the men’s world championship and was named to the tournament all-star team.
“I think both Jordan and Taylor are going to make the team and I’m going to work my ass off to do it as well,” Paajarvi said. “I think it’s awesome that we’re in the same situation actually.”
Edmonton finished last in the NHL last season, so the team’s rabid fanbase is pinning its hopes on these three to lead the franchise to a better future. Three pairs of shoulders bearing the weight of those expectations is better than one, says Eberle.
“Obviously it makes it a little easier when you’ve got two other guys coming in to share the load and the spotlight,” he explained. “It’s even easier when they’re two guys around your age and they’re good guys too.”
Hall, six-foot-one and 185 pounds, is explosive and tenacious in gaining the puck and keeping it. He relies more on his hockey instincts than Eberle, as the hockey wheels are always turning in his head.
Eberle, five foot 10 and 174 pounds, moves the puck quickly in tight spaces. The Oilers hope his knack for manufacturing big goals carries over into the NHL.
With Canada down 5-3 to the U.S. and 3:11 remaining in the third period of this year’s final in Saskatoon, Eberle scored twice in 74 seconds to send the game into overtime. Canada lost 6-5 to the U.S., but Eberle was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
At the 2009 world junior championship in Ottawa, his tying goal with 5.4 seconds remaining in the semifinal against Russia sent the game into overtime. Eberle later scored the winner in the shootout. Canada went on to beat Sweden in the final for the country’s fifth straight gold medal.
Paajarvi, six foot one and 201 pounds, is a fluid skater who takes the puck hard to the net and is creative with it when he gets there.
“We’re starting to accumulate some high-end talent that’s different,” said Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini. “Talking about those three, they’re all different players.
“That’s one of the things we talked about in the past. We had young prospects who were good players, but very similar.”
The selling potential of these three in Edmonton is enormous, but the Oilers intend to develop them slowly. All three sat out Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames in Penticton.
“They’re all at different parts of their career,” Tambellini said. “The expectations and the coverage of those three are obvious because they’ve had such success up until this point.
“We’re not looking for a quick fix. We want to be able to build this organization with players like that, so we can sustain some success. Those three are (high) profile right now, but it’s more of a bigger picture than that.”