For a while, it didn’t look like it would happen for Taylor Hall.
Two years into his NHL career, Hall’s numbers were good. But "good" had never been enough for the phenom. Nor for his peers.
As a former first overall draft pick, Hall belongs to an elite club. Recently, top picks have had a knack for making an immediate impact in the league. Alexander Ovechkin (2004) and Sidney Crosby (2005) both topped 100 points in their rookie seasons. Chicago’s Patrick Kane (2007) wasn’t far from a point-per-game player on his way to winning the Calder Trophy. Steven Stamkos (2008) finished his first year on fire before scoring 51 goals and 95 points in just his second NHL season.
The bar has been set, and it's one Hall, the 2010 first overall pick, couldn’t seem to get over. In his first year, Hall put up 42 points. He improved to 53 in his sophomore season. Great numbers for a typical rookie, but nothing Hall had done before those years could be described as "typical."
Hall’s junior career was more impressive. He won two Memorial Cups and was named the tournament MVP twice. He won a silver medal at the world junior hockey championship and finished third in tournament scoring, barely behind players drafted two years before him. He tied for first in the OHL scoring race despite the time lost playing at the world juniors. Everything pointed to Hall becoming an instant superstar the way Crosby, Ovechkin, Kane and Stamkos had done before him.
But it didn’t happen.
Not only did Hall fail to live up to those illustrious standards, he wasn’t even the best prospect on his own team. In Hall’s second year with the Oilers, fellow youngster Jordan Eberle emerged as the star. Eberle finished an impressive 16th in league scoring last season, while Hall ranked 80th. Teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the NHL’s 2011 first overall draft pick, was right behind him. Expected by many to lead his franchise out of its darkest days, Hall was outgunned by a fellow prospect and on the verge of being surpassed by another.
As Hall struggled to establish himself, so too did the Oilers. The team finished near the league’s basement in his first two NHL seasons.
A closer look shows that may not be a coincidence.
Recent numbers suggest no Oiler is more integral to the team’s success. This season, Hall is scoring 1.11 points per game, he’s a plus player for the first time at the NHL level and, for the first time in years, his team is competitive.
In late March and early April, Hall went on a tear, scoring 15 points over six games. Over that stretch the Oilers went 5-1-0, pulling into the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference. Since then, Hall has been blanked in four straight games. The Oilers lost all four in regulation time, falling to 12th.
Now the team is on the outside looking in. Hall sits 11th in league scoring, staring up at a top 10 that includes five of the six No. 1 overall picks drafted before him. Meanwhile, the Oilers are two wins out of a post-season spot.
If they are to earn one, Hall will have to play like he deserves to be in hockey’s elite.
Sean Reynolds is the host of CBC News Winnipeg at 11 on CBC Television. Follow him on Twitter @cbcseanreynolds.