What could Taylor Hall’s ‘next level’ look like?
Hall didn’t arrive at his fourth home in two seasons with the utmost confidence. His productivity in Buffalo declined significantly resulting in a paltry two goals during his 37-game stint with the Sabres.
The Bruins took a risk acquiring Hall, a pending UFA this off-season. But they didn’t relinquish significant assets in return for Hall and fourth-line forward Curtis Lazar, shipping Anders Bjork and this year’s second-round pick to Western New York.
It didn’t take long for Hall to acclimate himself in his second home of this pandemic-shortened season. With his stellar 16-game run to close out the regular season, Hall showcased a glimpse of his 2018 Hart Trophy campaign, tallying eight goals and six assists.
Hall’s arrival provided the Bruins with their deepest core of top-six forwards in Bruce Cassidy’s five seasons behind the bench. But Hall’s production went beyond the statsheet. His keen eye for drawing penalties and adaptive two-way skillset provided the club with another well-rounded toolset.
Hall developed instant chemistry with the crafty David Krejci and the blue-collar Craig Smith on the second line. This helped alleviate the pressure on the potent top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak entering their first round series. Combine that with the recent scoring uptick from the likes of Nick Ritchie, Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk and Sean Kuraly on the bottom-six, and the Bruins now have four well-rounded lines.
“I think mainly, it really solidified some more depth in the offensive position of need where we’re getting a little more production five-on-five,” Sweeney said of Hall’s trickle-down effect on the lineup. “Teams are not just looking at the Bergeron line. But now they’ve got to look at Krejci’s line and even, whether it’s Coyle or Kuraly, Ritchie; those guys have chipped in recently. And then our fourth line, adding Lazar, we’ve got a number of players that can slide in and out there that are going to give us energy.”
With newfound confidence, a re-energized Hall carried over his late regular-season success into the first two games of his second career playoff appearance. The 2010 top overall pick drew a trio of penalties against a heavy Caps bunch, including a pair in Game 1.
Hall’s timeliest postseason moment came two days later with the Bruins on the brink of facing a 2-0 series deficit. Amidst a sea of chaos in front of Craig Anderson, Hall found a loose puck in the crease and buried home his first playoff goal as a Bruin to even things up at 3-3 late in regulation.
The joyous celebration Hall displayed on that equalizer resonated with his club. In the end, Hall would catch a leaping Brad Marchand in his arms following his game-winner 39 seconds into the extra session.
As he’s enjoyed his brief time in Boston in the middle of a stellar run, the ever-comptetitive Hall believes he has another gear to reach.
“I still think I have another level to get to personally,” Hall said following Boston’s thrilling Game 2 OT win.
“A lot of it is about adjustments. I think a lot of things in life are about adjustments.”
In a game full of adjustments, the Bruins developed a fine-tuning mindset and inserted it into the team’s DNA. Hall clearly caught on to that work ethic, watching the likes of Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci and others work out the smallest of kinks at practice.
Hall’s work ethic, skillset and desire to remain a Bruin assembled itself nicely since Day 1. As productive as he’s been, the fact that he sees bigger heights ahead provides quite a scary proposition for any opponent Hall and the Bruins potentially face in the postseason.
“I think every player will say that. They want to feel that they can be at their best every night. I think it’s a great standard to set yourself to as long as you don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get there because it is a hard league and it’s the toughest time of year,” Cassidy said of Hall following Wednesday’s pregame skate.
“You’ve got to bring something to the table. If the puck isn’t finding you, then maybe you’re physical, maybe you’re backchecking and breaking up plays defensively until the puck does find you. I think there was a conversation on the bench about that with Taylor the other day, when ‘hey it’s your turn be ready’ and he was, late in the third. The puck found his stick, he had some open ice, he attacked the D and did everything right. He got up to the net, hung around and he got the tying goal. So good for him for sticking with it.”
Hall ‘stuck with it’ following a frustrating time in Buffalo. He’s inserted himself nicely into Boston’s culture. And his fresh perspective will only help him fine-tune his game to the next level.