Will be it Taylor or Tyler? Choosing between Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin—the top two prospects at this weekend's NHL draft—won't be easy, but it's an enviable problem for Oilers G.M. Steve Tambellini, who owns the first pick. With Hall and Seguin possessing comparable skills and stats (they co-led the Ontario Hockey League with 106 points last season), it's been almost impossible to put the two 18-year-old forwards into any sensible order.
Just ask the NHL's nine-person Central Scouting Service, which flip-flopped for seven days in April before voting 5--4 to list Seguin as its top amateur. The outfit released the rankings a month before the OHL playoffs began, then watched as Hall outshone their newly minted No. 1 in Memorial Cup play. The winger led the Windsor Spitfires to a championship repeat, and earned an unprecedented second straight playoff MVP award.
A fearless scorer with explosive speed, Hall appears to be the more NHL-ready player. After three years in the OHL, and an impressive showing at the World Juniors tournament in January, he has the skill and experience to make an immediate impact. But his all-out style sometimes leaves him vulnerable to crushing hits, like the one he took in the first game of the playoffs this year when Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman and Islanders prospect Travis Hamonic drilled him face-first into the end boards. "That would certainly be a concern," says one Western Conference scout.
Of course, Hall came back on his next shift four minutes later to score one of the niftiest goals of the postseason on a dazzling behind-the-back, between-the-legs move through traffic. "Hall is so dynamic, and the motor's going all the time—he is instant offense," the scout says. "He has [the] ability to do things by himself in traffic, off of traffic. . . . He'll get pounded, but then he bounces right up."
The question most likely plaguing Tambellini, who has refused to reveal his preference, is whether Hall will be the better player five years from now. The meteoric improvement of Seguin, who went from 67 points as an OHL rookie in 2008--09 to 106 last year, suggests there's more to come. He added about 15 pounds of muscle to his 6'1" frame over the last 18 months, impressing scouts at the NHL combine in Toronto last month. Given the premium placed on big-bodied centers and the fact that Edmonton has several young, skilled wingers in their system, it wouldn't be surprising if the Oilers pick Seguin. But passing on an electric talent like Hall, who will move tickets as swiftly as he moves through the offensive zone, won't be easy.
The only certainty on Friday night will be that the Bruins, owners of the second pick, will have a much easier decision to make. Whether it's Taylor or Tyler, Boston will be getting a more than adequate consolation prize.
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TWO CLOSE Hall (left) and Seguin topped both NHL draft boards and the OHL scoring race, with 106 points apiece.