If there wasn’t a lockout, the game between Oklahoma City and Houston tonight in the AHL wouldn’t be a big deal. Of course it would be for the teams and their parent organizations (Edmonton and Minnesota, respectively). After that it might be just a score line you would see in the morning paper or on the bottom of a television as the ticker endlessly rolls across. However, tonight’s game will be different. In fact every OKC game this season has been different due to the NHL-NHLPA stalemate.
The interest level in the Barons has been much higher than usual with names like Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and AHL player-of-the-month Justin Schultz in the lineup. Tonight, the interest will be surrounding the addition of another top flight young talent in Taylor Hall. For Hall it’s his long-awaited return to the lineup after shoulder surgery, a problem he was playing with before the decision was finally made to go under the knife.
I don’t think there is anyone who works for the Oilers, plays for the Oilers or cheers for the Oilers who won’t be watching with some trepidation tonight. Taylor hits the ice for his first game action, of any kind, since last March 16 against Calgary. Taylor had played a total of 39 seconds when he got walloped by Cory Sarich and suffered a concussion. While out with that injury, it was determined to fix his shoulder and let the healing process begin.
Since he was drafted first overall in 2010, it seems like Hall has been doing two things: Healing and scoring. In his rookie season, Hall had scored 22 goals with an outside chance of hitting 30 before he mangled his ankle in a fight he never should have been in.
Year two proved to be promising once again. He totaled 27 goals, but any chance of a 35-plus goal season was put on ice after the hit by the Flames defenceman. Along the way he also fought through a shoulder problem, which has now been fixed, and the gruesome skate blade to the face leaving an unforgettable scar as a reminder.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Taylor Hall has, in only two seasons, become injury prone or something close to it. His return tonight marks the start of putting that label away; tucking it into a corner drawer never to be seen and forgotten about all together.
Whether it’s by spending the entire season in the AHL or, if by some miracle, it’s with a return to the NHL sometime soon, Hall needs to stay healthy to show himself and everyone else who’s watching that he can do it at the pro level. Health wasn’t an issue for Hall in the OHL but this isn’t Windsor anymore.
The skate blade was a ‘bad timing’ situation. The fight where he turned his ankle was a ‘you shouldn’t have been there’ situation. That leaves us with the Sarich hit and the ongoing shoulder issues.
"The less you get hit, the less you get hurt."
That’s one motto, despite his swashbuckling ways, that the 20-year-old needs to live by. Doesn’t mean he has to be any less effective, just that he plays smart enough to know what to do and when to do it.
Edmonton’s rise to NHL prominence is expected to happen in the next few years; great expectations after years of not so great results. Taylor Hall will be key in this climb to the top of the NHL mountain. They can’t do it without him. He’s played 126 career NHL games, missing a total of 38, more than 25 per cent. If Hall can drop the two and keep the five, then he and the Oilers could be in business.
Hall turns 21 on November 14. Here’s wishing him an early Happy Birthday. The one present he can’t buy or be gifted is his health, but it’s something that he needs more than anything.