Taylor Hall has been the spark that’s ignited the Devils’ offense this season, and his hand injury – no matter how short-term – stands to highlight his importance in New Jersey.
Here’s the bad news for the New Jersey Devils: Taylor Hall has suffered a hand injury, has already missed one game and has been ruled out for Tuesday’s game against the white-hot Boston Bruins. The good news, though, is that the Devils may not be without the star winger for long.
Hall’s injury was announced Monday by New Jersey coach John Hynes, but the Devils bench boss specified the 26-year-old will be reevaluated mid-week ahead of the Devils’ pre-all-star break clash with the Nashville Predators. While there’s no knowledge of the specifics of the injury and whether it stands to keep Hall out for Thursday’s game, too, Devils reporter Amanda Stein noted the injury is “not considered long-term.”
That Hall is missing any time at all, of course, is not ideal, and the impact of his absence was felt almost immediately. In Monday’s contest against the Detroit Red Wings, who are on the precipice of the league’s bottom-third in goals against per game, New Jersey wasn’t able to muster a single goal, with Petr Mrazek turning aside all 37 shots the Devils mustered on the evening. That New Jersey failed to score with Hall out isn’t altogether surprising, however, given he’s been the embodiment of offense for the Devils throughout the campaign. Through 43 games, Hall is leading the attack for New Jersey with 17 goals and 48 points. He’s also factored in on 34.5 percent of the Devils’ goals this season, which puts him 16th among the league’s top 50 scorers.
But what makes Hall’s production significant isn’t just that he’s guiding New Jersey, nor is it that his points pace puts him in line to set new career bests in the three major scoring categories. Rather, it’s that Hall has been far and away the most productive player the Devils have had this season. Truthfully, it’s not even close.
At 48 points, the gap between Hall and the next-highest scorer in New Jersey is 18 points and his rate of production — 1.12 points per game — is inching close to double that of Jesper Bratt, who sits second on the Devils with 30 points at a rate of 0.67 points per game. That’s not to mention Hall’s 18-point team scoring lead is the biggest individual gap among any of the league’s other teams. While the likes of Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar and Blake Wheeler are also the runaway leaders on their clubs, their spreads of 15, 15 and 16 points, respectively, over the next-closest scorer are less than that of Hall, who has opened up such a significant gap despite playing two fewer games than Bratt after missing three games this season.
It goes beyond scoring, though, as Hall has been heavily relied upon in the matchup game for Hynes, often taking on the opposition’s top line while skating the heaviest 5-on-5 minutes of any Devils forward. Despite tough competition, Hall has one of the best possession rates relative to his teammates and the best expected goals for percentage when compared to his top-six compatriots. He’s generating opportunities and driving play, so even when he has been held off the scoresheet, which has been rare, Hall has made an impact for New Jersey and powered the second-place Devils’ push for a divisional playoff berth.
The hope is that, at worst, Hall will be forced to miss a third game, which would be the outing against Nashville, and return to the lineup when New Jersey comes back after the all-star break. The best-case scenario, however, would see him return to action ahead of the all-star game as the Devils seek to maintain their position in the Metropolitan Division. Because unlike other potentially playoff-bound organizations who have a litany of offensive options at their disposal, Hall has been the driving force in New Jersey and one the Devils can’t — and absolutely don’t want to — do without.
Now, as far as the side effects of the injury, the Devils stud being sidelined the week ahead of the break could mean Hall, New Jersey’s lone all-star, won’t be heading to Tampa Bay. But if that’s the case, who takes Hall’s spot this coming weekend?
Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils
Chances are the league is going to want the Devils to have representation at the All-Star Game, thus the best odds for Hall’s replacement go to one of his New Jersey mates. And while Bratt is the second-highest scorer among the Devils’ forwards, it’s hard to see the NHL looking up and down the New Jersey roster and not deciding to send Hischier. While he’s far from a frontrunner in the Calder Trophy race given the seasons Brock Boeser and Mathew Barzal are piecing together, Hischier is among the top 10 rookies in points and has oodles of speed and skill that could add some fun to the all-star contest.
But there’s another reason why Hischier should get the nod: to bring together a class of first overall picks. Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid are already heading to the event, and Hischier’s presence would mean each of the past three No. 1 draft choices would be in Tampa Bay for all-star weekend. Toss Nathan MacKinnon into that bunch and four of the past five top picks would be present. The only one missing to go five-for-five is Aaron Ekblad.
Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
Despite sending two Penguins to the game, most would argue the league didn’t actually send Pittsburgh’s most worthy skater, Phil Kessel. The fan favorite has been the Penguins’ most consistent scorer all season, pacing Pittsburgh with 21 goals and 54 points, yet he was passed over in favor of Sidney Crosby. Granted, Crosby is Crosby, the face of the league and the best player in the sport, but if the all-star selections were doled out on merit, it would be Kessel heading to the game, not the Penguins’ superstar captain.
If the league decides that Hall’s injury creates a next-man up scenario that disregards the need for representation from each club, Kessel is the perfect addition. He’s become a player and personality that fans have latched on to since his arrival in Pittsburgh, and he’d be an excellent addition to the skills competition — accuracy shooting might be a contest he could win — and the 3-on-3 tournament.
Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers
Let’s again assume the league won’t simply pluck the next-best option from the Devils forward group and instead take a look at those who are most deserving of a chance to head to the festivities, in which case Voracek seems as good an option as anyone. Due to the difficulties of plucking a group of six from a division that boasts 11 forwards among the league’s 20 top scorers, the league was faced with a toss-up between sending Voracek or Claude Giroux. In the end, the decision was made to send Philadelphia’s captain. But Hall’s injury — again, presuming the league doesn’t just send another Devil — could allow the NHL to showcase both of the Flyers’ top scorers.
Voracek is worthy of joining Giroux in Tampa Bay, too. Two points separate Philadelphia’s dynamic duo — Giroux has 55 points to Voracek’s 53 — but there’s been no better set-up man in the league. Through 47 games, Voracek has 45 assists and is on pace to reach 79 helpers on the year. If he manages to hit 80 assists, he’d be the first player to accomplish such a feat since Henrik Sedin collected 83 in 2009-10. And if Voracek goes to the game, each player in the top eight for assists will be present for the skills competition. That would be perfect for the inaugural running of the passing challenge event.
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