SASKATOON – The young man expected to be the first overall selection in the 2010 NHL entry draft vows he’ll do whatever it takes to earn a spot on Canada’s junior hockey team.
Windsor Spitfires winger Taylor Hall desperately wants to play be part of Canada’s bid for a sixth straight gold medal at the world junior hockey championships in Saskatoon and Regina in December.
“I got cut last year and watching on TV is one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I was very jealous,” Hall said during the Canadian team’s summer camp in Saskatoon.
“I’ll do anything to represent my country.”
The buzz around the six-foot, 181-pound forward has been steadily growing during first two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. The Kingston, Ont., native is about to step into the hot spotlight reserved for the next top prospect for the NHL, now that John Tavares, the No. 1 pick in this year’s NHL draft, has vacated it.
Hall had just turned 17 when he was invited to try out for the Canadian team last December. By his own admission, he had a poor camp.
The first time Tavares tried out for the Canadian junior team at 16, he struggled to mesh his considerable offensive talents with the defensive demands of the international hockey and failed. Hall had the same difficulties last December.
“At the camp last year, I thought too much about playing defence and I wasn’t creating chances like I usually do,” Hall explained. “This time around, I’m more mature and have a clearer vision of what I want to accomplish.”
Tavares went onto play for the Canadian junior team three times and was the MVP of the 2009 world junior championship in Ottawa.
Hall makes plays with the puck and is able to finish at higher speeds than other junior players. He shoots hard mid-stride, which is difficult for goaltenders to defend.
He’s a better skater than Tavares at the same age, but Hall has work to do to equal Tavares’s puck distribution skills.
“Taylor needs to mature his game a little bit and understand he may be the best option sometimes, but not always,” explained Hockey Canada head scout Al Murray. “He needs to use the other players on the ice a little bit better and take advantage of his speed with some give and go’s, so he’s not always trying to beat people one on one.
“It’s more refining his game than anything that he’s lacking.”
Hall was an integral part of Canada’s gold medals at the 2008 world under-18 championships and the Ivan Hlinka international under-18 tournament last summer. A strong first half of last season with Windsor garnered an invitation to the junior team’s selection camp.
After he was released from Canada, Hall fell into a funk, but recovered in time for the Ontario Hockey League playoffs. He was named the league’s playoff MVP with 16 goals and 20 assists in 20 games.
The Spits won the Memorial Cup in May and Hall was named most valuable player in that tournament with two goals and six assists in six games.
“Last year I had a very good playoff and Memorial Cup and so did my team obviously,” Hall said. “After getting cut, I had a so-so second half to the year. I really redeemed myself and am very proud of that.
“I carried that confidence through the summer and hopefully I’ll have a good year next year.”
Spitfires defenceman Ryan Ellis, who helped Canada win a fifth gold medal in Ottawa, feels his young teammate is ready for the national junior team.
“He’s an unbelievable talent and slated to go as the top pick or in the top few,” Ellis said. “He wants another crack at it.
“He’s working real hard. He’s been telling me about his (fitness) program and it’s pretty intense. I know he wants to make it this year.”
The 41 players invited to Canada’s five-day summer camp, which concludes Sunday, are evaluated by Murray, head coach Willie Desjardins and his assistants while they’re here.
The atmosphere is less tense than selection camp as players have until November to prove themselves worthy of an invitation in December.
Hall was lukewarm on his performance during practice the first two days of summer camp, but felt the intrasquad games Saturday and Sunday night at Credit Union Centre would show what he can do.
“I think I’ve played OK,” he said. “It’s hard to stand out in practices, but you’ll see during the games over the next few days how I play. Hopefully I can carry on that aggressive, desperate game.”
As for the possibility of that coveted No. 1 spot in the NHL draft, Hall had learned from his predecessor.
“I don’t think you can prepare for it. I saw how John handled himself,” Hall said. “You’ve just got to take it as it comes and try and ‘tribute to your team offensively.
“I think if I do whatever I can on and off the ice, I’ll go as high as I can.”