EDMONTON – If adversity reveals character, Taylor Hall is making a bold statement about his willingness and ability to lead at a time when the Edmonton Oilers need him most.
The injury-riddled club is mired in a stretch that has seen them win just twice in their last 13 games, but the 20-year-old former two-time Memorial Cup champion and MVP is doing what he can to shake his team from its slump.
After scoring five goals during a seven-game stretch on the road in which the Oilers won just once, Hall was easily Edmonton’s best player in Wednesday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils.
Beaten again, but not beaten down.
“I expect a lot out of myself,” Hall said Thursday. “No matter what’s going on around you, you always want to worry about your own game and how you’re playing.
“From there, you focus on how you can help the team as best you can. I’m just trying to play the best I can so help out my linemates and the team. We come to each game with a fresh mindset. We don’t worry about the last one. We try to win the next one. I think every player on the team is doing their best.”
Injuries to Jordan Eberle and rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins during the trip have left the Oilers without their top two scorers. Eberle is out for two to three weeks with a sprained right knee, while Nugent-Hopkins will be gone until the NHL all-star break with a shoulder injury. Defencemen Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney and Cam Barker are also out.
Enter Hall, a man on a mission against the Devils who fired five shots at Johan Hedberg, assisted on Ales Hemsky’s 1-1 goal, set up a half-dozen scoring chances and logged 23:10 of ice time for coach Tom Renney against New Jersey.
“I’d like to think that’s symbolic of our team,” Renney said of Hall elevating his game during a frustrating stretch. “He’s certainly one of those guys who leads the way with that whole approach.
“This is a fabulous player. A huge passion to play and very driven. I just love that. That’s so much about what we need to be moving forward.”
Hall has 14 goals and 30 points in the 34 games season. Seven of his goals have come in the 12 games he’s played since he returned to action after missing seven contests with a shoulder injury.
“You can’t really worry about the situation you’re in,” said Hall, who won two Memorial Cups with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. “You have to treat every game like a new game and go out and play it.
“You play it the very best you can, the most desperate you can. You try to be consistent every night because that’s what your teammates want and expect out of you.”
Without Eberle, who has 43 points, and Nugent-Hopkins, who leads NHL rookies in scoring with 35 points and has been named to participate in the rookie skills competition at the all-star game, Hall is playing on a line with Sam Gagner and Hemsky.
“It’s a big lift for everyone when you see a guy who goes out there like that and just plays fearless,” Gagner said. “We can learn a lot from him in that regard. It doesn’t seem like worries about negative things happening or is scared of anything.
“He just goes out there and plays the game the way it’s meant to be played.”
Like Hall, Gagner has been playing his best hockey despite the lack of team success. He had a five-game point streak snapped against the Devils.
“He plays with passion and he’s obviously got a lot of skill to go with it,” said Gagner. “It’s a lot of fun to watch and a big lift for our team. If we can continue to follow guys like him, we’re going to have some success here soon.”
While the Oilers picked up a point against the Devils, they’ve lost four straight games as they prepare to face the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.
“I don’t recall any of these games, other than the last period in Long Island, where we quit at all,” Renney said. “I’m not suggesting we quit then. We just had one of those nights. We had four posts or something like that.
“I’d like to think our team is sort of taking on that look, too. Maybe we do have others in our dressing room who need to learn how to sustain that and continue to pursue it, but it’s sure nice to have that example.Certainly, Taylor is all about that.”