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Taylor Hall Embraces a Starring Role With the Devils

Taylor Hall Embraces a Starring Role With the Devils


Shero and Hall said the meeting was not necessarily a catalyst for Hall’s sensational, M.V.P.-caliber regular season, in which he led the Devils with 39 goals and 54 assists and lifted them to the playoffs. But it did flip a page. Hall was motivated to start over.

“It was a long summer,” he said. “It gives you a chance to refresh. When I started looking at everything, I just started looking at the positives. We have a great arena; the practice facility is right here. I have a coach and a G.M. who believed in me. We were really starting to put some pieces together that we could be a really competitive team.”

The Devils (44-28-9) face the Tampa Bay Lightning (54-23-5), the top team in the East, in the first round of the playoffs, beginning Thursday. The Devils won 10 of 13 games from March 10 to last Thursday, when they held off Toronto to earn the playoff berth. Hall, the left wing on the Devils’ top line, had nine goals and 10 assists in those games.

Earlier this season, Hall, 26, had a 26-game point streak, the longest in the N.H.L. in two years. The Devils won only 12 of those 26 games, but they stayed in the playoff race. Last season’s team was driven from contention because of losing streaks of eight and 10 games.

“It’s tough to motivate yourself on a nightly basis when things are going like that,” right wing Kyle Palmieri said of last year’s team.

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Hall was traded from Edmonton in June 2016. He said of New Jersey, “I feel like this is home now.”

Credit
Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Now, Palmieri said, Hall is “moving his feet at all times, which makes him so dangerous because of his speed and agility.” He added: “You can see it in his confidence and attitude with what he brings to the team on a nightly basis. He’s taken it to another level, too, with how he’s engaging with his teammates. He’s definitely settled in.”

Hall, who was born in Calgary, Alberta, and lived there until he was nearly 14, scored 132 goals in 381 games in six seasons in Edmonton, but the Oilers never had a winning record, losing 138 more games than they won. They finished higher than fifth in their division just once.

Still, Hall was stunned to be traded in June 2016. The Oilers had drafted the elite center Connor McDavid first over all in 2015, and Hall thought he could be McDavid’s linemate for years. Then Hall was gone, traded for defenseman Adam Larsson.

“I think he’s still motivated from being traded,” Devils Coach John Hynes said. “He took that hard. He’s got a lot of pride. He wants to make this work.”

Hall has accomplishments: He played on a Windsor Spitfires junior team that won back-to-back Memorial Cups, and he has won five gold medals while playing for Canada in international competition. But he had never reached the N.H.L. playoffs.

“He hasn’t been in a race before,” Andy Greene, the Devils’ captain, said. “He’s really embraced it, has really enjoyed it. Seems like every game he’s getting faster and stronger and more dynamic.”

The Devils caught a big break last April when they won the draft lottery after finishing with the fifth-worst record in the N.H.L. That enabled them to choose between two centers who were 18 then, Nico Hischier of Switzerland and Nolan Patrick of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Shero took Hischier, who was put on a line with Hall at midseason. The two players have complemented each other perhaps more than expected, and Hischier finished with 19 goals and 32 assists.

Hischier said of Hall, “He’s the type of player who can raise his game at the part of the season when it counts.”

Hall re-evaluated his life after last season and decided to buy in.

“I feel like this is home now,” he said. “Anything else would be weird.”

He smiled, then added: “From Edmonton, it was a big change. I know how to take the subway and the PATH now, and I know my way around. I feel comfortable being in the arena with the fans, and having that Devils crest on my jersey.”



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