TORONTO – Forgive Taylor Hall if he’s still a touch heartbroken.
Time heals all wounds, they say. They also say it takes half the duration of a close relationship to recover from it when it all turns to mud.
So after 2010’s No. 1-overall pick gave his first 381 games and 328 NHL points to the city of Edmonton, the Oilers’ best winger was traded this summer for Adam Larsson, whom GM Peter Chiarelli is betting big will be one of the club’s best defencemen.
Hall was with the Oilers for six (yes, playoff-free) seasons. It’s only been eight weeks.
“So, Taylor, what did you do for fun this summer?” we ask.
“The trade put a wrench in things, for sure,” he says, cracking a small smile.
“In a breakup, you try to forget about it as quick as you can, right? That’s what I’m trying to do,” he continues. “It’s not easy. Once the regular season starts and you start seeing Edmonton piling up the wins, or whatever they might do, it’s going to be a bit weird. The main thing is to focus on my team, control what I can control.”
So Hall busied himself with selling his place in Edmonton, the one that also housed super rookie and roommate Connor McDavid last season, and packing up his things. Last weekend he went to New Jersey, put on strange colours and found a new apartment.
He’s living solo now, but he’s wrapped his head around a new challenge and a new life—one he was surprised to learn is just a short distance from downtown Manhattan.
“I’m 24 years old now. I’m not an 18-year-old kid that’s just been drafted to a team. I think a lot of the onus is on me to get in there and get used to things as quick as possible,” Hall says. “I’ve played six years now, so I hope I can take on a bit of a leadership role and do my part there.”
This week Hall is training at BioSteel Camp, a pre-training camp where he’s surrounded by teammates old and new. Oilers McDavid and Darnell Nurse are training alongside him at St. Michael’s College Arena; they came to Hall’s charity ball hockey tournament in Kingston, too, and both say Hall’s departure is a huge loss.
“That’s the crappy thing about getting traded. You’re going to a new team, and you’ll develop new friends for sure, but… a lot of really great guys back in Edmonton,” Hall says. Wistful. “They’re great kids, great friends.”
Fellow Devils Joseph Blandisi, Devante Smith-Pelly and Mike Cammalleri are at the camp as well.
Cammalleri’s first thought when he learned of the blockbuster acquisition?
“Wow, we got Taylor Hall,” Cammalleri says. “The second thing? Too bad we’re gonna lose Lars. But to get a Taylor Hall, you’re going to have to do something like that.”
What the Devils are getting in Hall is one of the game’s elite left wings. Chances are, he slots into the first line, moving Cammalleri (now 100 per cent healthy, the veteran says) to the second.
“Pretty cool,” Cammalleri says of adding Hall. “When he first came in the league, he kinda came in with a lot of strength and speed and power. Since then, he’s shown not only that, but the ability to make plays, to make passes, to score and create offence in a myriad of ways, which makes him a truly unique and dynamic offensive player.”
Aside from running into Cammalleri at last summer’s BioSteel Camp, the only Devil Hall was familiar with is centre Adam Henrique. As Windsor Spitfires teammates, the two forwards put up gaudy OHL numbers for three straight seasons in the late aughts.
In Hall’s draft year, he scored 106 points in Windsor; Henrique put up 77.
“Adam’s certainly a great player and we had a lot of success in junior, so it’d be a lot of fun to play with him for sure,” Hall says.
The two have kept in contact since junior, and Hall recently chirped “Rico” for his GQ style on Twitter.
“We would chat after games, and see each other a couple times in the summer when I’d go to Windsor, where he still lives,” Hall explains. “One of the best things about hockey is everyone’s a good guy. You develop friendships quickly. I’m looking forward to assimilating the best I can with the team and as the exhibition games go forward and we look to the regular season I’ll get used to wearing the Devils jersey.”
He’s at the plenty-of-fish stage.
Hall points out that he’s never been traded in his professional or amateur career. He’d heard his name pop up in rumours, of course, but he never thought it would actually happen. And if it did, it wouldn’t be to Jersey—despite the Devils operating the league’s worst offence in 2015-16.
Cammalleri’s been traded twice and switched teams four times. He says you never stop holding on, just a little, to the cities you represent.
“It’s part of your footsteps and journey through life. For me, L.A., Calgary, Montreal all hold special places in my heart,” Cammalleri says. “Like any other job or school or town where you’ve lived — you move on, but there’s always some sort of feeling towards that place.”
Today, Hall still speaks warmly about the passion of Oilers fans and “how much they cared” through all those disappointing campaigns.
Yet his focus is shifting to a fresh October and a bustling metropolis that isn’t so concerned with ice.
“I’m looking forward to having a little more anonymity,” Hall admits.
He thinks of the Oilers’ road trips to Newark, his new home rink, and a rebound relationship with promise.
“It looked like a traditional hockey market, to be honest. I didn’t expect it to be as packed as it was and for the fans to be as loud as they were,” Hall says. “The last time we played there, it was Martin Brodeur’s jersey retirement night. That was a special night. You can see they’re a first-class organization with the way they put things on.”
And the way they orchestrate trades.