EDMONTON - If Taylor Hall was a horse ó and he is ó heíd be described as well-positioned going down the backstretch of the Calder Stakes.
Tomorrow night in Dallas, Hall hits the halfway mark of his rookie year as the first No. 1 overall pick at the NHL Entry Draft in the entire history of the Edmonton Oilers.
A controversy is likely to soon begin as to whether heíll also deserve to be the first winner in Oilers history of the Calder Trophy as the NHLís top rookie.
With 12 goals and 11 assists going into the teamís 41st game of the season, Hall projects to roughly a 25-goal, 25-assist, 50-point campaign.
That would compare favourably with Tampa Bayís Steven Stamkos and his 23-23-46 season two years ago, or John Tavares and his 24-30-54 point season for the New York Islanders last year.
Hallís projected totals also stack up nicely against the 29-22-51 Ilya Kovalchuk posted in his rookie year for the Atlanta Thrashers.
Thatís a far cry, of course, from Alex Ovechkinís 52-54-106, Sidney Crosbyís 39-63-102 or even Patrick Kaneís 21-71-72 in their rookie years, but the 19-year-old Hall long ago surpassed Joe Thorntonís 3-4-7 rookie season.
Hall can match Patrick Stefanís 5-20-25 by the midway mark, is closing in on Vincent Lecavalierís 13-15-28 and is well within range of Rick Nashís 17-22-39.
The aforementioned players are the last 10 forwards selected No. 1 in the draft.
You get the idea.
Thereís no knocking Hallís rookie year so far, especially if you factor in his compete level and his commitment to improvement.
There were people, and they know who they are, who suggested Hall be sent back to junior after his first nine games. Indeed, he only had seven points to show for his first 17 NHL outings.
While he only has one goal and one assist in the last five games, Hall has still been getting the chances.
His lack of production lately involves mostly puck luck and whatís going on around him. Heís not exactly playing for the San Jose Sharks here.
If you rate players on a 1-10 basis, most nights Hall is a solid six, sometimes a seven.
Thereís a consistency there that doesnít exist with most of his teammates, especially in the compete area.
The Calder Stakes are still anybodyís race, with Carolina Hurricanes centre Jeff Skinner the top point-producer at 13-18-31, followed by Sharks centre Logan Couture (18-9-27) and New York Rangers centre Derek Stepan (12-12-24) going into Sundayís games.
Hall, injured teammate and roommate Jordan Eberle and Chicago Blackhawks winger Bryan Bickel all had 23 points, with Hallís Windsor Spitfires teammate, defenceman Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks, standing at 21.
Many expect this is going to come down to Couture versus Hall. While itís on the back burner now, itíll start to sizzle if it becomes a two-horse race.
Couture is a 21-year-old who played 25 games (5-4-9) last year with the Sharks, plus another 15 games in the playoffs. One more regular-season game and he wouldnít be eligible as a rookie this season.
How can a guy with 25 regular-season games and 15 playoff games be considered a rookie?
Most hockey people tend to view playoff game experience as being worth two or three games of regular-season experience.
The Oilers have had more than their fair share of NHL trophy winners over the years, but an Edmonton player has never copped the Calder.
In the Oilers first year in the league, Wayne Gretzky was ruled ineligible to be rookie of the year because heíd played in the World Hockey Association.
After years of the NHL putting the WHA down as a grossly inferior league, that was considered an outrage ó especially in light of the fact the Calder went to Peter Stastny, who had spent a decade playing for Czechoslovakia on the international stage.
Thereís a whole lot of hockey to be played between now and the end of the season, but if it turns out to be Couture versus Hall for the Calder, thereís a significant difference in numbers and playing time in favour of Couture ó and heíll probably win it.
Eligible is eligible.
But if itís close, if itís a coin flip, Hallís head will be on both sides of the coin.
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