Taylor Hall spent his first training camp practice with the Buffalo Sabres on Friday trying to soak in everything new, from the surroundings at KeyBank Center to his teammates’ personalities and how they play.
But there were a few things that felt familiar to Hall, who signed a one-year, $8 million contract with Buffalo on Oct. 11, including Sabres coach Ralph Krueger. When Hall made his NHL debut as an 18-year-old with the Edmonton Oilers in 2010, Krueger was an associate before becoming the Oilers coach in 2012-13.
“I think I probably have a leg up on most guys that are on new teams with the familiarity that I have with Ralph and not only Ralph, but (assistant) Steve Smith, who coaches the D and the penalty kill, and Myles Fee, who’s our video coordinator,” Hall said. “I had those guys in Edmonton and to see those guys around the rink is an added bonus when you’re coming to a new team to see familiar faces.”
Hall traveled to Buffalo on Christmas so he could participate in a few informal skates before training camp began and said he believes the Sabres, who were one of seven teams that did not make the Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season, will benefit from starting camp early (the 24 teams that did qualify begin training camp Monday).
But with a truncated camp and no preseason games, Hall knows getting fully acclimated before the Sabres host the Washington Capitals in their season opener on Jan. 14 will be a challenge.
That Hall’s likely center on Buffalo’s top line, captain Jack Eichel, didn’t practice Friday because of an upper-body injury didn’t help. With Eichel out, Hall skated at left wing on a line with Victor Olofsson at right wing and Casey Mittelstadt and Riley Sheahan rotating at center.
“It’s not just Jack that I’m going to be playing with this year,” Hall said. “There’s five guys on the ice and who knows what the line is going to be in Game 5 or in Game 10? So it’s important to play with different guys and to see how they play and to see where they want passes and how they shoot, how they move out there. So obviously, you’d love to see him out there. He’s the captain of this team and he’ll be out here pretty soon.”
Based on his previous experience with Hall, Krueger knows what he can add to the Sabres, who finished 13th in the Eastern Conference with a .493 points percentage (30-31-8) last season. Hall helped the New Jersey Devils return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 2017-18, when he set NHL career highs in goals (39), assists (54) and points (93) in 76 games.
With the Devils and Arizona Coyotes last season, Hall scored 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 65 games.
“His skill, his ability, his pace, you can feel it already and it gives our whole group a confidence when you see somebody like Taylor,” Krueger said. “You know, he’s matured in a really nice way. He’s going to be a very important leader for us on and off the ice.”
Krueger said he felt his relationship with Hall from their three seasons together in Edmonton pick up right away in their meeting Thursday and on the ice Friday. Meanwhile, Hall recognized some of the practice drills that Krueger runs.
“I didn’t quite remember how to do them or they weren’t second nature to me, but a lot of the philosophies are the exact same,” Hall said. “Our meetings are fast, our meetings are to the point and that’s how our practices are as well. They’re filled with pace, they’re filled with quickness and high quality. I think he’s a big quality over quantity guy and I think that’s a great trait that you want to have in a coach, especially a coach when you’re on a new team.”
Overall, Hall was impressed with what he saw Friday, which confirmed some of his reasons for signing with the Sabres.
“I knew coming in that it was a team that I think is poised to take a step, a team that has some really good options offensively,” Hall said. “I think on the back end as well you see Rasmus (Dahlin), the player that he is after just two years in the League. Being able to play on a line with Victor today was great. … You can see his skill. You can see his shot.
“And then I think just the way that Ralph wants us to play with pace offensively, (be) a team that really attacks and when we don’t have the puck, obviously, a team that needs to get the puck back as quickly as possible and play to our strengths. A big reason why I wanted to come here was I saw that building and I saw it first-hand today.”