HALL VS SEGUIN VS SKINNER: THE STUPIDEST NHL DEBATE OF THE LAST TWO YEARS (PART 1)

Taylor Hall NHL Edmonton Oilers

Photo by Alesiaxx (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This is Taylor Hall.  He was the 1st Overall Pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.  He is a very, very good young hockey player.

Tyler Seguin NHL Boston Bruins

Photo by ericabreetoe [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This is Tyler Seguin.  He was the 2nd Overall Pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.  He is a very, very good young hockey player.

Jeff Skinner NHL Carolina Hurricanes

Photo by Michael Miller (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This is Jeff Skinner.  He was the 7th Overall Pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.  He is a very, very good young hockey player.

Why? Meme

I know Jackie. It baffles me too.

Background to “The Debate” – Taylor vs Tyler

Over the last two years, ever since Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were drafted Over the last two and a half years, ever since before Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were drafted, there has been immense debate as to who is the better player.  The Edmonton Oilers, who were in a freefall to the bottom of the NHL standings for most of the 2009-10 season, were pretty much guaranteed either the 1st or 2nd draft pick as early as March, and by April they had won the draft lottery to secure the 1st Overall Pick.  This was a huge decision for the Oilers.

Just 4 years earlier Edmonton had been just 1 game away from winning the franchise’s 6th Stanley Cup, but fell in Game 7 after a momentous fight-back from being down 3 games to 1.  After being the last great NHL Dynasty, back in the 1980s, the Oilers fell on hard times – they didn’t have the cash to compete with the bigger-market teams, and a poor Canadian dollar meant the team was struggling to even exist, with the team being saved at the 11th hour by the Edmonton Investors Group.  From 1993 to around 1997, the team was awful, finishing as low as 4th from bottom in the standings in 1994.  However, smart management from Glen Sather managed to scrounge together some quality young players, led by Doug Weight and Ryan Smyth, to become “The Little Team That Could” – a highly competitive team who were never dominant, but were always in a battle for the 8th and final playoff spot.  In the early 2000s, the team started struggling again, however, not helped by years of terrible drafting.

By now, former star player Kevin Lowe was GM, and through some incredibly smart moves managed to build a team that had a serious shot at contending – particularly with the acquisition of superstar defender Chris Pronger.  However, following the Cup loss, Pronger demanded a trade, and almost all the “rental” players traded for before and during the season – Sergei Samsonov, Mike Peca,  Dick Tarnstrom, Jaro Spacek, and longer-term Oiler Radek Dvorak – left via free agency, with only star goalie Dwayne Roloson staying.  All those guys were vital parts to the team, and despite a strong-ish start in 06-07, the Oilers were clearly hurting from not replacing those players with any sort of quality.  The Pronger trade brought in young sniper Joffrey Lupul, but he turned out to be a massive disappointment (in Oilers colours anyway), highly-touted d-man Ladislav Smid (who took years to turn into a quality defender), and 3 draft picks (one of whom turned out to be Jordan Eberle, but that wouldn’t come to fruition for years).  They had signed Petr Sykora, but despite a fairly quality season for him they misused him and he was gone after 1 year.  Then, at the 2007 trade deadline, veteran Oiler – and beloved member of the Edmonton community – Ryan Smyth was traded after being unable to come to agreement on a new contract.  This broke the hearts of Oiler fans, and broke the back of the already struggling Oilers team.

The return for Smyth was, in hindsight, poor: the highly skilled but flawed former 1st rounder Robert Nilsson, the versatile former first rounder Ryan O’Marra who never reached his potential, and a first round pick for the 07 draft (Alex Plante, a big, skilled, but slow defender).  No immediate help.  The Oilers went into a tailspin, winning I believe only 2 of their last 20-odd games.  This put them in line for the 6th Overall draft pick, and they took Sam Gagner.  Gagner had just an incredible season in the OHL on a line with Patrick Kane, and was believed at the time to be the Oilers’ No.1 Center of the future.  Teaming up on a “Kid Line” with former first rounder Andrew Cogliano and the recently acquired Nilsson, the trio had a very successful year with all 3 getting over 40 points.  The success didn’t continue, with Gagner plateauing in the minds of many (though he has become faster and more well-rounded), Cogliano’s production dropping off significantly (his success was the result of an abnormal shooting percentage) and eventually being moved out to make room for others, and Nilsson being shipped off after poorer production and criticism by his coaches that he didn’t work hard enough.  The tough times continued, and eventually the Oilers found themselves stepping up to the podium in June 2010 to make the franchise’s first ever, first overall draft pick.

For the Oilers, it was important to get this right.  Probably the most important decision by the Oilers in the last 15 years.  This player was going to be the new face of the franchise, the new superstar player, the guy who was going to pick them up out of the gutter and return them to respectability and to glory.  At least that’s what was being sold to the fans to make them forget the fact that horrific mismanagement of the team had led to this point.

Taylor Hall – Junior Superstar

Taylor Hall was selected 2nd overall in the OHL Draft in 2007, behind Ryan O’Reilly, by the Windsor Spitfires.  He walked straight on to the team that year, despite not turning 16 until November, and blew away the opposition with 45 goals and 84 points – unbelievable production for a guy that young.  Most OHL draft picks take a year or two to make it full time on to their Major Junior team, but Hall was something special.  He won both the OHL and the CHL Rookie of the Year awards.  At this point, more than 2 years away from his draft eligible year, Hall was already being touted as the likely 1st Overall NHL Pick in 2010.  He also represented Canada at the World Under 18 Championships, scoring 9 points in 7 games and winning a Gold Medal.

His sophomore OHL campaign saw him score 38 goals and 90 points, further cementing himself as one of the best players the Canadian Junior Leagues had seen in a long time, certainly almost up there with John Tavares and Steven Stamkos.  That year, at the age of 17 and still a year away from being NHL Draft eligible, Hall’s Spitfires romped through the OHL playoffs, with Hall earning the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as Playoff MVP, with 36 points (16 goals) in 20 games.  In the Memorial Cup, Hall continued to blaze his way, posting a tournament-best 8 points in 6 games (thus winning the Ed Chynoweth Trophy) as the Spitfires won the Memorial Cup.  For his efforts, he was awarded the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as Memorial Cup MVP – almost unheard of for a player too young to be drafted.  Hall was by now the most famous prospect in all of North America.

He followed up that campaign in style, posting a career high 106 points (40 goals)  – tied with surprise star Tyler Seguin for the OHL scoring lead – and once again led the Windsor Spitfires through the OHL playoffs, defeating Tyler Seguin’s Plymouth Whalers along the way, and posting a league leading 35 points in 19 games.  The Spitfires battled their way to the Memorial Cup once again, and with Hall leading the charge.  He stunned everyone after taking a gargantuan hit from Travis Hamonic, going face first into the boards, but then coming out a couple of minutes later and scoring a highlight-reel goal.

He once again won the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as Memorial Cup Scoring Leader, and an unprecedented second straight Stafford Smythe Trophy as Memorial Cup MVP.  Earlier in the season he had also scored 6 goals and 12 points in 6 games at the World U20 Championships, as Canada won a Silver Medal.  He was now one of the most decorated junior players of all time, and heading into the NHL draft was a stone cold mortal lock to be selected 1st Overall – or was he?

Tyler Seguin – Coming Out Of Nowhere

Drafted in the 2008 OHL Draft 9th Overall by the Plymouth Whalers, expectations were certainly not as high for Seguin as they were for Hall.  Particularly after Seguin only scored 1 goal in his first 17 OHL games.  However, he picked it up after that and finished his rookie season with 67 points in 61 games.  As such, Seguin was being touted as a potential Top 10 pick for the following 2010 NHL draft.  He was still not being mentioned in the same breath as the hereto untouchable Taylor Hall.

And then came the 2009-10 season.  Seguin scored 36 points in his first 18 games until injury put him out for a small while.  However, when he came back he still posted 70 points in only 45 games to finish joint top of the OHL in scoring, winning the Eddie Powers Trophy alongside Taylor Hall, and also being declared the winner of the OHL’s Red Tilson Trophy for League MVP – beating out, you guessed it, Taylor Hall.  Of course all this sudden dominance by Seguin attracted the attention of the media, and more importantly, NHL Scouts.  Whereas Taylor Hall had been ranked as the number 1 prospect for the 2010 Draft for months by Central Scouting, they were impressed by the huge improvement in Seguin’s game and by the end of the season he had overtaken Hall, in their eyes, as the number 1 prospect.

This led to a whole load of attention when Seguin’s Whalers met Hall’s Spitfires in the second round of the OHL Playoffs.  This was seen my many as a test of character, and a great chance to see who was better by facing them off one another, and many said the team that won the series would most likely have the player who would be the 1st Overall pick.  Would it be Hall, the junior superstar who had won just about everything possible and was looking to make history as the first player to repeat as Memorial Cup MVP?  Or would it be Seguin, the upstart new kid on the block, who had surprised everybody with a stunning season and was looking to supplant Hall as the favourite for the draft?

Things didn’t go well for Seguin and the Whalers.  Taylor Hall and the Windsor Spitfires roared over them, winning 5-1, 5-3, 5-0, 3-2, thus sweeping them in 4 games.  Hall himself scored 3 goals and 8 points, whilst Seguin was held without a point for the entire series.  This was a huge stumbling block for him, and many declared Seguin to be out of the race – Hall was a proven playoff performer who had just destroyed his closest rival, whilst Seguin had crumbled at the worst possible time.

The Draft

However, despite Hall being the man of the moment, and going on to win a ton of silverware at the Memorial Cup, Seguin was certainly not out of the race.  The time between the end of the playoffs and the draft itself is always filled with scouts (and fans) pouring over footage of the top ranked players, trying to find out every little thing about them to make sure they know these players inside out and that they are picking the right guy.  At the NHL Combine before the draft, and only a few days after the end of the Memorial Cup, the top prospects all descend on Toronto to be subjected to interviews from NHL teams trying to decipher their personalities, and are poked and prodded and measured and analysed as they perform exercises designed to deduce their athletic abilities.

Hall decided to not take part in the physical testing, as he was nursing a few small injuries and wanted to recover.  Some inexplicably mistook this for weakness or cowardice, whereas in reality it’s just smart – the combine really isn’t all that important in the long run, and it’s not worth jeopardising a players physical health over.  However, Tyler Seguin really put himself back in the picture during the physical testing, as he came out and surprised everybody with his impressive results and muscular physique.  The interview portion of the Combine is pretty confidential, and teams don’t tend to reveal who said what.

However, as was revealed several months after the draft in the great TV documentary “Oil Change” , which followed the Oilers as a team for a full season and who were present during the interviews, Taylor Hall was asked the following question by President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe (paraphrasing):

You’re courageous and reckless as a player. A lot of people have expressed concern over your style of play, saying your too reckless and will get hurt playing that style at the NHL level, going to those dangerous areas and playing against the likes of Zdeno Chara.  What do you say to that?

Hall appeared to be shocked and mystified by the question.  His answer, again paraphrasing:

I know when I’m getting hit… I brace myself for it… I have to go through those places.  If I’m just standing on the wall waiting for a pass… that’s an average play. That’s how I’ve always played, on the edge, desperate, aggressive, trying to make plays all over.

That was a stunning insight into the mind of the only repeat winner of the Memorial Cup MVP.  This was a guy who couldn’t comprehend how a team wins if they aren’t willing to do everything possible to get there, playing without fear.  That’s a winner.  That’s a guy the Oilers needed.  The problem is, just because one guy has won a lot of stuff, doesn’t make the other guy any less of a great player, or even any less of a winner.  It certainly doesn’t make him a loser.

It has to be noted that Hall was on a powerhouse team, although he was the best player on it, and Seguin was playing on a below-average team, and he was by far the best player on it.  Each situation has personal pro’s and con’s for the players.  Was Hall being made to look better than he was and benefiting by being on a great team, or was he leading the charge, the best player on the best team?  Was Seguin looking so good because he was the only player worth watching on his team and therefore guaranteed a lot of ice time to pump up his stats, or was he genuinely dragging along the team and the only reason they even made it to the playoffs?  All those questions probably have merit, and it’s unfortunate that the CHL doesn’t provide many stats (such as Time On Ice) to the public so we can see how players were used.  Had Seguin been on a team like the Spitfires, it’s entirely reasonable to suggest that he might have looked as good as Hall, although Hall had been playing at an elite standard for 2 years before Seguin ever did.  Had Hall been on the Whalers, he might have still got his points because he would have been handed a great big dollop of ice time and given tonnes of responsibility.  The fact that both players were so good probably renders the point of team situations mute, as it’s likely (though admittedly unprovable) that both players would have succeeded in either situation.

However, that Combine interview wasn’t revealed to the public for months, and the debate still raged: Taylor or Tyler?  Much of the debate centred on the matter of what position each guy played.  One of the core building blocks to any team, particularly one in dire need of an elite player, is a number 1 center.  This is a guy who is elite offensively, and often are also capable two-way guys.  People pointed out that you don’t win championships without a number 1 center.  The issue?  Taylor Hall, in most people’s eyes the number 1 guy, was a left wing.  Tyler Seguin was a center.  There had been talk, talk that still persists today, that Hall played center before he reached the Spitfires, and that he might be able to move back there again.  That was a major consideration for the Oilers.  The Oilers also had to weigh up who was the best player at the time, and who would be the best player in the future.

A simple scouting report, from my own personal views at the time, of both players:

Taylor Hall – a dynamic, hard-charging, balls-to-the-wall winger, who absolutely flies down the wing with some of the best speed in the draft and has a cannon of a shot.  A guaranteed goal scorer at the NHL level with underrated passing skills, and is absolutely fearless.  Confident, some people mistake it for arrogance but it doesn’t look like that to me.  May appear to some as a “jock” type, but is actually very intelligent, articulate, and has been described as a “student of the game”, or a “hockey nerd”, knowing a lot about NHL history.  Has a long history of success.  The safe pick at No.1 even though his eventual ceiling might not be as high as Seguin’s.

Tyler Seguin – a slick, quick-skating, agile center, who is almost as capable of scoring goals as he is making sublime passes.  Struggled in a playoff series against Hall, but that shouldn’t be held against him too much – all players have times when they struggle and it was just a shame it was at a critical time.  Too small a sample size to be definitive of the kind of player he is.  Came out of nowhere to challenge Hall for the number 1 spot, doesn’t have the same history of success but such a massive improvement year-over-year is impressive.  Comes across, to me anyway, as a bit smug and not as respectful as Hall, but that might just be me doing the same thing as I shot down other people for doing with Hall.  Intelligent and articulate.  Maybe a bit more of an unknown as Hall, thus a bit riskier, but might have a higher ceiling – whether he achieves it is another matter that will only be decided in several years time.

From my point of view, I kept flipping between the two players.  Before the 09-10 season started, I was a Hall fan, and remembered thinking “I’d love it if the Oilers had a chance to get Taylor Hall, but they’re not going to be bad enough to get that 1st Pick.”  How wrong I was.  For most of the season I was still a Hall guy, but I did flip over to taking Seguin a couple of times because of his playing the center position.  But I eventually kept coming back to Hall.  To me, he was more exciting, more of a “winner”, more of the guy who could be the “face of the franchise”.

And so, at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles:

In Part 2: Hall and Seguin’s Draft +1 Seasons, and a third player appears on scene – Jeff Skinner.

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