Hall, Skinner meet again

Rookies face off tonight at RBC

Staff writerNovember 9, 2010 

— He's younger than John Wall or Sam Bradford, and he certainly looks it.

If Taylor Hall had walked through Crabtree Valley Mall on Monday, he probably wouldn't have drawn a glance, much less an autograph request. To many, he would be just another teenager at the mall.

But not in Canada. The Edmonton Oilers made Hall the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He has that in common with Bradford, the No. 1 pick by the St. Louis Rams in the 2010 NFL draft, and Wall, the top selection in this year's NBA draft by the Washington Wizards.

Hall is a Canadian kid playing in the NHL in a Canadian city and in an arena where Wayne Gretzky once won Stanley Cups. At 18, he's being asked to resurrect a proud franchise that has fallen on hard times.

Let Hall stroll through a mall in Edmonton and many a teenager - and more than few elders - probably would swarm around him. Talk about hockey in a fishbowl. It's a little different than Jeff Skinner being 18 and playing for the Carolina Hurricanes.

"Definitely there are expectations, but that comes from playing in a Canadian market," Hall said Monday in an interview. "I think you can take it personally or you can take it with a grain of salt and make sure you're playing your game and having fun every day you come to the rink."

Sounds like Skinner, doesn't it? The No. 7 pick in 2010 draft, Skinner has talked often of trying to have fun as a rookie in the NHL.

"He's obviously dealt with it his whole life with what he's done in junior [hockey], and he's handled it very well so far," Skinner said of Hall. "I obviously have experienced something a bit different but at the same time have the same expectations of myself. I'm sure he has high expectations of himself and the same with me."

Skinner leads all NHL rookies with 12 points. That's six more than Hall, not that Skinner makes much of it.

"You hear about it, and you can't get away from it nowadays," Skinner said, smiling. "But you put it in the back of your mind and not worry about it. My goal is to help the team win. That's my focus."

The Hurricanes (7-7-0) and Oilers (4-6-2) play tonight at the RBC Center. The last time Skinner and Hall were on the ice together, it was the Western Conference finals of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

Skinner and the Kitchener Rangers led the best-of-seven series 3-0, but Hall and the favored Windsor Spitfires had rallied to win three straight.

"He was a dominant player, really fast and really physical, and just took over games," Skinner said.

Skinner, a 50-goal scorer in the regular season, had scored 20 in 19 playoff games. He had just an assist in Game 7 as the Spitfires won 4-1.

"They kind of took it from us," Skinner said.

Windsor then won the OHL championship and went on to claim a second straight Memorial Cup, further enhancing Hall's status. In late June, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward became the No. 1 pick of the draft in Los Angeles.

Hall had a slow start to his NHL career - one assist in his first seven games. But the Calgary native has three goals and two assists in his past five games, easing consternation in Edmonton.

"The fact he's in Edmonton and Canada, and the fact he's the first overall pick ... there's always that added pressure no matter where you are and especially in Edmonton," Canes center Eric Staal said. "To try to turn around that franchise, that's a lot of pressure for a young kid."

But Hall said playing for the Spitfires and being the top-ranked junior prepared him for such attention.

"I knew it was coming," he said. "But the media in Edmonton are very good, and the fans are pretty committed to a rebuilding and know we're not going to be a Stanley Cup contender this year. There are the expectations, but I feel the last few games I've been playing pretty well."

Oilers coach Tom Renney said Hall has handled it well, calling him "very humble but very intense."

"He wants badly to contribute," Renney said. "What I really see is that every game he feels more and more confident to go out and be the player he can be."

Hall said that having forwards Jordan Eberle, 20, and Magnus Paajarvi, 19, on the Oilers has helped put him more at ease.

"It's made it a lot easier knowing the pressure's not on you every night," Hall said. "Fans are coming out to see a couple other young stars as well. That's a good place to be."

Skinner, from Markham, Ontario, also believes he's in a good place, and he's off to a good start.

"He has such a knack for scoring goals," Hall said. "I saw that in the OHL playoffs. He's a very dynamic player that way.

"It's good to see him doing so well. I can't say I'm surprised because I knew he was such a good player."

Note: Canes coach Paul Maurice said defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who missed the past two games with an upper-body injury, is "day to day." Pitkanen did practice Monday.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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