SUN Hockey Pool

This time it's 'real'

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:04 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Another day, another momentous occasion in the evolution of Taylor Hall.

A game. Against other guys. Not rookie-tournament stuff, not scrimmages against teammates who treat him like he's made of glass. An honest-to-goodness measuring stick against NHL opposition.

"It's definitely going to be exciting," said the 18-year-old, who expects to draw in against Tampa Bay on Thursday after sitting out the preseason opener in Vancouver. "The Joey Moss Cup was fun, but it wasn't a real game. This is a real game, where teams are trying to put their best foot forward for the regular season. It's going to be fun, a lot of hitting, maybe some fights. I'll just try and play my own game and contribute."

He's going to be nervous, excited and confident all at the same time. These are big leaps, and they'll only get bigger as the pre-season rosters get stronger toward the end of camp, but these incremental steps along the way -- rookie camp, the Joey Moss Cup -- have definitely helped him get his ice legs.

"It's a lot better than being thrust into the action, but you can tell that it's a step up each time," he said.

"The rookie camp was tough for the first little while, then I got used to that. Now it's the NHL, where even the practices are pretty high tempo and everybody knows what they're doing. It's definitely a lot harder but I think I'm keeping up pretty well.

"You get confidence as you move up, but it's one thing to play against players in practice, and another to play against NHL players in exhibition games. I'm interested to see how I do, and how we do.

"I don't really know what to expect, I'm just going to go in there as focused and as ready as I can, but once you're in the game you don't know what's going to happen."

How should he be judged in his first game? A hat trick would be nice, though rather unlikely. Should just being in position and not getting outclassed or scored on, much, be considered a good night's work?

"My goal is to just learn the system and keep improving every day," he said.

"I don't think they're expecting miracles from me in the pre-season, but I want to do well for my linemates and my team. I keep saying I want to improve every day and I really mean that. If I keep improving every day then by the end of the year, wherever I am, I'm going to be a better player."

His ability to generate offence is the reason Edmonton drafted him first overall, but in the early stages of his development that isn't necessarily what he's going for. The need to prove himself all in one night, to put on a show for a crowd that's dying to see what all the fuss was about, isn't an issue.

"If I was in the OHL and I didn't get a point I'd be saying maybe I wasn't in the right position and I didn't play well, but you're going to have a lot of nights in the NHL when you're not getting points. You still have to find a way to contribute, that's what winning teams are all about.

"I kind of try and tune (the pressures and expectations) out. Go out there and have fun, because at the end of the day it's still hockey and it's pretty cool that I'm in the Edmonton Oilers dressing room."


Videos

Photos