I’m going to just spit it out. Taylor Hall(notes) of the Edmonton Oilers is already better than John Tavares(notes) of the New York Islanders. So how soon will he be as good as Steven Stamkos(notes) of the Tampa Bay Lightning?
Sooner than you think.
Sure, Hall is stuck in the frigid oil fields of Alberta. But he’s already the best player on his team and close to the best in the province (with apologies to Calgary’s Jarome Iginla(notes), of course).
He doesn’t have the veteran insulation that Stamkos had in his rookie year. But relatively speaking – rookie year to rookie year – this guy’s performance may be even more special than my favorite Bolt.
Hall is good at everything in the offensive zone. He skates faster than the wind. He leads. He’s confident and determined. And he isn’t a liability in his own zone. And he’s doing it without the benefit of an elite playmaker like Marty St. Louis.
It all adds up to one word – stud. And soon.
He’s going to easily outpace Stamkos’ rookie output. And can you imagine what he might deliver if he had his own Mighty Mite?
Stamkos’ rookie breakout started in mid-January and he delivered 32 points in his last 37 games. Hall’s breakout has started sooner. He’s on a three-game, five-point streak heading into Christmas and he has nine points in his last nine games.
So what will his future hold? I don’t know but I’m going to sit back and enjoy the highlight reel. And I’m going to get him on as many fantasy rosters as I can – keeper and not.
Maybe I’ll even dangle Tavares as bait.
Now let’s take a look at who caught my eye this week.
Jamie Benn(notes), LW, Dallas (12 percent owned) – Benn was on the edge of my radar even before the "five knuckle meat soother" he and Jarome Iginla got into Thursday night. If you haven’t seen it, open a new browser tab and go straight to YouTube. That first right to Iginla’s eye could have easily broken his orbital bone and the tilt has to be an early candidate for fight of the year. Even the quote above (courtesy of FSN Dallas’ Daryl Reaugh) certainly has to be up for a top-10 game call. Benn’s package of skill, persistence and toughness smacks of future greatness and he’s flashing that package right now with four points and seven PIMs in his last three games. His points will come in fits and spurts; he’s worth owning when he’s having one of those fits.
Brett Clark(notes), D, Tampa Bay (8 percent owned) – Clark must be hoping for something pretty special from Santa because he has really worked hard this week to improve his standing on the naughty-nice list. Heading into Christmas, he’s on a three-game point streak (one goal, three assists) and has quietly put himself on a course to nearly equal his best offensive season ever (39 points with Colorado in 2006-07). He had decent value then; it’s no different now. It’s just that no-one has really noticed. Except us.
Corey Crawford(notes), G, Chicago (53 percent owned) – Haven’t bought in yet? CC was the second-highest rated goalie on the Yahoo! player rater heading into action Thursday night, ahead of everyone except Jonas Hiller(notes). Marty Turco(notes) is still on the outside looking in. And as long as that keeps happening, Crawford should be active in just about every format.
Dan Ellis(notes), G, Tampa Bay (43 percent owned) – Ellis has struggled this season but platoon-mate Mike Smith(notes) just can’t escape that black cloud of freak injuries. So Ellis has about two weeks to tighten up his game and snag the reins in Tampa. He was solid Wednesday night; mind you, he did lose in OT to the uber-lowly Islanders. But he was great Thursday against the Rangers, turning away 34 pucks through overtime and stopping nine of 11 shooters in the shootout. A couple more solid outings and Smith could find himself in the back seat of a team bus that’s filled with enough firepower to win a lot of games going forward. And with Ellis minding the twine tent.
Olli Jokinen(notes), C, Calgary (34 percent owned) – Okay – is the Olli of the last two weeks the real Olli or simply like the “fake Claus” in Tim Allen’s holiday (sic) classic, The Santa Claus 2? I’m leaning toward the latter because I don’t trust the guy as far as I could kick him and his stupid grin. At least he has ditched that awful porn-stache. But I can’t ignore what he has done in the last two weeks – he has five goals and two assists in his last eight games. Cripes, he only has seven goals on the season! Now, don’t get stupid and drop someone who really is valuable just to snag Rolie Polie Olli. But he’s worth a flyer if you can IR someone.
Erik Karlsson(notes), D, Ottawa (60 percent owned) – I just love this guy; he has it all – skill, skating and smarts. And at the beginning of the season, I told you that I thought he’d be a better fantasy contributor than Sergei Gonchar(notes) (91 percent owned). Well, he’s proving me right. He has eight points in his last eight games and he’s on pace for close to 50 points. He should be owned in every Yahoo! league (except, of course, those 12-team leagues that only roll one defenseman … like there’s more than seven of those leagues out there anyway.) Check your wire. Or go trolling for a trade. This guy is clearly underrated.
Dwayne Roloson(notes), G, N.Y. Islanders (7 percent owned) – Rollie the goalie continues to defy both gravity and Father Time. And while he won’t deliver consistent wins, he will help you in both save percentage and goals-against average. He has looked like a 25-year-old buck this week going 2-0 with just two goals against in back-to-back wins Wednesday and Thursday. And his 40-year-old knees seem a whole lot younger than Tricky Rick DiPietro(notes), haven’t they?
Devin Setoguchi(notes), RW, San Jose (23 percent owned) – Will the real Devin Setoguchi please stand up? Two seasons ago, he looked like a future star while draining 31 goals and 65 points; last year, he was a flop with just 36 points. He started this season on a path that was eerily close to last year’s but since his return from injury 10 days ago, he’s looking a whole lot more like he did in 2008-09. His best attribute his powerful shot that comes with pinpoint accuracy and a deceptive release. And he’s using it again – he has three goals in his last four games while playing alongside joltin’ Joe Pavelski(notes). He’s the kind of guy who can really boost your goals total and quick.
Wayne Simmonds(notes), RW, Los Angeles (22 percent owned) – This guy has really disappointed me this season. I pegged him as a potential – and rare – 50-point, 100+ PIM guy. But instead, he has regressed into just another ruffian who doesn’t completely embarrass himself on the score sheet. But things seemed to have changed in the second week of December. He has seven points, seven PIMs and a plus-6 rating in his last eight games and is once again showing his hands can be almost as quick as his feet. There is a small caveat here, though, and it’s one that cannot be ignored. Eleven of his 14 points, including five of his recent seven, have come on the road. He’s worth grabbing when the Kings go on the road. And hopefully, he’ll soon be worth owning for stretches at home, too.
James Neal(notes), LW, Dallas (83 percent owned) – I know it sounds counter-intuitive to trade a burgeoning power forward who’s number 44 on the Big Board. But if there’s one guy who’ll be hurt if the Stars trade Brad Richards(notes) it’s Neal. Just think about it. Richards will likely be punted at the trade deadline and just who will step in beside Neal? Maybe it’ll be Mike Ribeiro(notes) but the Stars would be loath to break up the successful Ribeiro-Brendan Morrow-Jamie Benn trio. Maybe it’s Benn who will shift to center. But he’s still too green to pull that off with consistency. So that leaves either a center that comes back in the Richards’ deal or one of Steve Ott(notes), Adam Burish(notes) or Tom Wandell(notes). Spit. I’m just not sure Neal can deliver at the same pace (he currently has 29 points in 35 games) without Richards. He’ll net you a solid return in a trade. I think you have to consider it. I would.
James Wisniewski(notes), D, N.Y. Islanders (49 percent owned) – Wiz is back. You and I both knew that early-season breakout was unsustainable but his fall from grace was quick and hard. But he’s on a four-game, four-point streak heading into Christmas and now is the prime time to leverage his “recovery” into a trade. He’s just not that good. But someone might bite. And you’d be out from under that abysmal plus-minus.
Back to Mr. Hall.
His only shortcoming right now is his lack of power-play production. But that’s a team problem, not his. And there’s nowhere to go but up.
I don’t think it’ll be long before the “big three” become the “fantastic four.” It might not happen next season. But it sure won’t be long after that.
It really won’t. So get him in your stocking now.
Merry Christmas, happy (but belated) Hanukkah and "Habari gani?" on each day of Kwanzaa.
Until next week.