LOS ANGELES — Taylor Hall relaxed in a chair on the terrace of a downtown Los Angeles restaurant, comfortably clothed in a golf shirt and slacks.
Over his head, a palm tree floated to and fro in the breeze. On the eve of the biggest day of his hockey life, the left-winger with the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires swayed from question to question with similar ease and grace.
On the surface, it hardly seems the proper setting for the anointing of the National Hockey League’s latest prodigy.
But what better locale for this year’s NHL entry draft than Hollywood, the place where ordinary people are drawn to in search of glamour, hoping the star-maker machine will make their dreams come true?
Hall certainly embraced the concept.
“I was pretty excited when they said it was going to be in Los Angeles,” said Hall, whom the Edmonton Oilers could very well make the first pick of the draft Friday night. “So far, it’s been everything I thought it would be.
“I’ve never been to California before. I’ve never even been on a vacation like this, so it’s been just tremendous to be here with my family and everyone involved.”
The NHL draft is the senior prom on skates, the coming-out party for the amateur hockey elite.
At first, Hall found it difficult to wrap himself around this metaphor.
“I don’t have a date for (draft) night, so it’s not a prom for me,” he joked. “Maybe my mom’s my date. She’ll like that.”
In reality, Hall’s date is with destiny.
“It’s kind of the end of a chapter,” Hall said. “You have minor hockey, then junior hockey, and now you’re stepping in and you’re being a pro.
“Every day you come to the rink and it’s your job, and I think that’s good.”
Hall is among two players in contention to be named prom king — make that first overall — at the draft’s opening round at the Staples Center.
While the hockey world awaits the final answer to the year long Taylor/Tyler debate, the protagonists in this battle for the No. 1 overall spot in the draft — Hall and Plymouth Whalers centre Tyler Seguin — are in the same situation as everyone else —_the dark.
But that’s exactly where Hall wants to remain until it comes time for the big announcement.
“I don’t think anyone’s too anxious to figure it out,” Hall said. “Whatever happens is going to happen.”
A year ago, Hall was glued to his television set on draft day, waiting to see who among John Tavares, Victor Hedman, or Matt Duchene would be that year’s No. 1 as the New York Islanders strolled to the podium to make the first overall selection.
“For the hockey fan, it’s great,” Hall said of the uncertainty.
“I know last year, with Tavares and Hedman and Duchene, that was awesome. I was on the edge of my seat when the Islanders picked.
“It’s really great for the game. It’s good for hockey that no one knows. It keeps you guys (media) interested. You guys have something to write about and I think that’s good.”
He won’t wait long for an answer.
Hall will either go first overall to the rebuilding Oilers, or second overall to the contending Boston Bruins, who lucked into that pick when they acquired the top draft choice of the Toronto Maple Leafs in a deal for Phil Kessel.
Both teams have vetted Hall thoroughly.
And Hall’s best guess as to which team likes him most is:
“I couldn’t tell,” he said. “They were very courteous and very nice to me, but your guess is as good as mine.
“I haven’t heard anything. There’s no inside information, or anything like that. I’m sure there are people that think they have insider information.”
A source close to the Oilers indicated Thursday that Hall knocked their socks off during the interview process.
While meeting with the Oilers’ brass, Hall dissected their lineup, then outlined the particulars of the club’s top prospects.
Then he hit it out of the park, telling the Oilers that he wanted to come to Edmonton and do exactly what he did in Windsor — help lead a down-and-out team all the way to the top.
“There’s a lot of similarities,” Hall said of the Windsor-Edmonton parallel. “(Oilers owner) Mr. (Daryl) Katz is a pretty new owner. When I went to Windsor, the year after, they got a new arena.
“I’m pretty comfortable with the fact that I could be joining a rebuilding team.”
Not that he’s got anything against the Bruins, mind you.
“Boston is a terrific city and they’re already there, so it’s two tremendous situations,” Hall said. “At the end of the day, I’m getting drafted to one of two different teams with totally different scenarios, but it’s still hockey. I still have to go out and produce for the team that drafts me.”
While he accepts the uncertainty, Hall isn’t completely comfortable keeping company with such an emotion.
Generally, here’s how the game works for him: Get the puck. Make the play. Win the game.
“I’m used to playing hockey and being able to take over the game at any point,” Hall said. “Here, I’m the spectator. I’m the one watching it and I don’t know if I like that. For sure, it’s going to be fun. I’ll just sit there and wait and see what happens.
“I’m very excited to see what happens.”
He’s got plenty of company there. Hall’s aunt Julianne is jetting in from Australia to join the family at their draft party.
His time in La-La land has actually been a party atmosphere for Hall, proving to be a breath of fresh air following an anxious season.
“I think this whole experience — I’ve been here for three days and the whole tone of the draft has changed for me,” he said. “I’ve been able to relax and not think about it much, just kind of get my mind off it and that’s really nice.
“This whole year’s been really stressful with the hockey and everything else, but these last couple of days have been really relaxing.”
Wednesday, he and a few other draft prospects belted baseballs during practice prior to the Los Angeles Dodgers-Anaheim Angels game, and Hall gave a quick lesson on how fleeting fame can be.
“We met Tommy or Tony?” Hall said, pausing to point a puzzled stare forward at the chuckling. “Tommy LaSorda?” he finally said of the hall of famer former Dodgers manager, curious as to whether his guess was correct.
Thursday, Hall was among the prospects invited to walk the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of Eclipse, the third entry in the Twilight saga, those films that make preteens girls squeal uncontrollably and melt at the knees.
“I have no idea what the Twilight thing is,” Hall admitted. “I know it’s pretty popular among teenagers, but I think I’ve outgrown it.”
He was equally confused as to what moviegoers would think about a bunch of teenage hockey players strolling among the Hollywood celebs.
“I don’t know if too many people are going to know who we are,” Hall said. “Just probably five gangly Canadian kids walking down the red carpet.
“They’ll think we’re important, but they’re going to be like, ‘Who are these guys?’ ”
Who is this guy?
Just a young man who’s worked hard toward a dream, a dream that’s about to come true.
Friday night, it’s Hall’s star that will shine.
“It’s going to be nerve-racking, there’s going to be tons of emotion, but at the end of the day, I’m going to be drafted by a team, and that’s what I’ve been working for my whole life,” he said.
“I’m not going to lie. It will be fun when it’s over. But it hasn’t been too bad.
“When I say I’m honoured to be in this draft class, I actually mean it. I’m so lucky to have the ability to be here.
“In saying that, I’ve worked hard. My family and I have made a lot of sacrifices, but for me to be here is pretty special.”
Hall’s time has come. And it won’t be a long time in arriving.
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