The complete 23-man rosters for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey were officially announced on May 27, and the result was a fair amount of uproar from the hockey community. Team Canada was no stranger to that criticism, as is usually the case when choosing from such a deep pool of talent.
But there was one player left off Canada’s final roster who has repeatedly found himself on the outside looking in when international competitions roll around – Taylor Hall.
It’s been a rough go for the 24-year-old Hall, as the 2010 first-overall pick has seen nothing but disappointment throughout his six years in the NHL. Despite playing on a perennially mediocre team in Edmonton, Hall has managed to remain productive for the Oilers, racking up 132 goals and 328 points in 381 career games.
That means little to his critics, however, as the lack of even one playoff appearance has left him out of the conversation of the league’s elite.
Perhaps it’s this perception of Hall that has kept him off of Team Canada’s radar, as it seems the young sniper has never truly been given a shot to shine on the international stage. When he has gotten a chance, usually at the IIHF World Championships when the usual Canadian stars are busy with playoff hockey, Hall has been nothing short of spectacular.
Hall has competed in five tournaments for Canada, winning four total medals in that span (three golds, one silver). He hasn’t been a passenger during those runs either.
In 13 games as a junior, at the 2008 World U18 Championship and the 2009 World Junior Championship, he posted 10 goals and 21 total points. In 28 appearances with the senior team, all at the World Championships, Hall has amassed 15 goals and 24 total points.
During Canada’s gold medal run at the tournament in 2015, Hall finished in the tournament’s top three in both goals and points. At this year’s iteration – another gold medal finish for Canada – Hall finished with the third-most goals once again, and the most of any Canadian in the tournament, scoring at least once in each of Canada’s first five games.
While the quality of competition is obviously lower at the World Championships than at the Olympic Games or the World Cup, where all of the international circuit’s best will be present, Hall’s performance can’t be discounted. He’s managed to put up fantastic numbers every time he’s been called to wear the red and white, and yet it seems he’s never truly been considered for a spot on the main team.
And it’s not as if there simply wasn’t room. Canada may be deep, but there are certainly a few names that seem replaceable, at the very least.
Most of the above list is simply untouchable, with Canada housing many of the game’s top scorers. Hall’s main competition seems to be Brad Marchand, who will represent Team Canada for the fourth time this summer.
The Canadian squad was in desperate need of natural wingers, with so many of the shoe-ins being elite centers that will have to play out of position. Left wingers Hall and Marchand were both rumored to be in the running, and the latter forward undoubtedly benefitted from a career season that saw him score 37 goals – the first time he’s ever cracked the 30-goal mark.
However, Hall seems to have a slight edge in a few key areas. The first is size: Hall’s 6’1″ beats out Marchand’s 5’9″, as does Hall’s 201 pounds versus Marchand’s 181. While the NHL has become a league much more suited to undersized players, Hall’s size clearly doesn’t take away from his offensive game.
While he’s increased his physicality each season – posting a career-high 82 hits in 2015-16 – the central tenants of Hall’s game remain his speed and his knack for driving the net, using his elite hands to create offense in high-danger areas.
In fact, on that last point, Hall is a clear upgrade over Marchand. Per War-On-Ice, the Oilers winger created an astounding 110 individual high-danger scoring chances at even-strength this season, the second-most of any skater in the league. Marchand was quite far behind, with just 69.
In terms of total individual scoring chances (in all areas, rather than just high-danger), Hall again finished second in the league, as his 233 sat right behind Vladimir Tarasenko’s 234 and just above Alex Ovechkin’s 228.
Marchand finished 14 spots lower, with 181.
Hall’s biggest downfall seems to be the fact that he’s a one-trick pony, so to speak. Marchand may be as good or only slightly worse offensively, but he also agitates, kills penalties, and has established chemistry with one of Team Canada’s locks, Patrice Bergeron.
Thus, while Hall can create offense and put pucks in the net, it seems that simply isn’t enough to crack the squad just yet.
A look at the current roster suggests that may soon change, however. Jeff Carter earned another shot with Team Canada due to his 62-point season, but at 31 years old, it’s fair to assume he may not be back next time Canada is choosing names.
The same can be said for 36-year-old Joe Thornton, whose phenomenal 2015-16 campaign earned him a return to the national team, and 31-year-old Ryan Getzlaf, who made the team despite taking a step back this season.
While there are certainly some talented young players on the rise who will snag a few of those spots – most notably Connor McDavid, who is a lock for the next Canadian roster – the changing of the guard should free up a spot for another natural winger. If Hall can keep doing what he’s done up until this point, and can finally progress and take the next step to becoming a perennial 30-goal-scorer, then there’s a chance he can end his international drought next time around.
Perhaps Hall will get a longer look once his Oilers teammate McDavid becomes an annual choice for the national squad, but for now the Ontario native will have to wait patiently and watch from the sidelines yet again.