OAKVILLE, Ont. — Taylor Hall finally got a taste. Now he wants the full course.
This spring, the eventual MVP winner and his 93 points dragged the New Jersey Devils into the NHL playoffs for the first time in five years. The experience lasted just five games, however, as the Devils were bounced by the Tampa Bay Lightning in unceremonious fashion.
Following seven playoff-free seasons with both the Edmonton Oilers and the Devils, Hall finds himself in unfamiliar territory. He's happy in red and black, but hungry for more.
"Definitely a successful season, but at the same time I watched playoff hockey for a month and a half before the Cup was handed out," Hall said Wednesday before teeing off at the NHLPA’s annual charity golf tournament. "We're a long way from where we want to be, but I think it was a great first step."
Despite the playoff berth, the Devils have been quiet this summer. General manager Ray Shero hasn’t acquired anybody of significance via free agency or trade; he also let a number of veteran players walk, with forwards Brian Gibbons (Anaheim), Michael Grabner (Arizona), and Patrick Maroon (St. Louis), as well as defenseman John Moore (Boston), all signing elsewhere.
"We’re going to have to find a way to make up for that," the 26-year-old said. "Those are guys that played key roles on our team, whether they were (picked up) at the trade deadline or just guys who came into (training) camp and surprised and made a huge difference for us."
Hall, whose 26-game point streak, career-high 39 goals, and 1.2 points per game helped him claim the 2018 Hart Trophy, laughed when he was asked about the potential of Shero using the club's salary cap space ($23 million in 2018-19) to add talent sooner than later.
"I just sit here like you guys …" he told a scrum of reporters. "I’d love to see us add a couple more pieces, but at the end of the day that’s not my job. My job’s to come into camp as healthy as possible, as committed as possible, and just worry about that."
While the Devils' depth chart remains unfilled, the team has Nico Hischier, the 2017 first-overall pick. Hall lauded the Swiss centre at the NHL awards, and heaped more praise onto him on Wednesday.
"If he was playing in Toronto, or a big market that would have a lot more spotlight, I think that he’d have a bigger name, a lot more recognition, certainly a lot more Calder votes than he had," Hall said of Hischier, who finished seventh in rookie-of-the-year voting.
"He had 50 points (52) as a centerman as an 18-year-old and, us playing on a line together, we played the top lines each and every night. I'm proud to be his teammate, I'm proud to be on a line with him, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the evolution of him, how he can improve next year."
The Devils vastly improved in 2017-18. Playing a speed game under coach John Hynes, they jumped from a winning percentage of .427 in 2016-17 to .591. It's an appetizing start, a jolt to the franchise's internal and external expectations.
"It's hard to get out of the basement. It's hard to get out of the basement and make the playoffs," Hall said, emphasizing the leap. "Now, I think the hardest step is going from making the playoffs to being a team that can challenge for the Cup. I'm really looking forward to trying to do that."
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