Taylor Hall's first seconds as an Edmonton Oiler were spent on his back, but he recovered and contributed an assist in a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks at the Young Stars Tournament on Sunday.
The first overall pick in this year's NHL draft was upended on the opening face-off when Vancouver winger Kevin Clark jammed his stick between Hall's legs.
"It makes me feel really good when the Penticton crowd laughs at me," Hall said wryly. "It wasn't the start I wanted, but I thought as the game went on, I felt better and that's what I want to do this season.
"I don't want to be a player that kind of stalls. I want to get better as the season goes on."
The Kingston, Ont., native, arrived at the five-team rookie tournament accompanied by expectations and hype. He and highly-touted forwards Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle are all trying to crack the Oiler lineup at the same time.
The trio wasted no time making an impression. Paajarvi, Edmonton's 10th overall pick in 2009, scored a pair of goals Sunday. Eberle, the Oilers' first-round choice two years ago, scored a goal assisted by Hall.
"I don't mean to diminish what they did tonight, but it's a rookie tournament and anything can happen and probably will before we get back to Edmonton," Edmonton head coach Tom Renney said. "Kudos to them. They worked hard this summer and came with a bit of a heavy burden to bear in terms of rising to the occasion and I guess to a point at least they've done that."
Tyler Pitlick scored an empty-net goal for Edmonton. Goaltender Olivier Roy earned the win with 28 saves on 29 shots. Canucks defenceman Kevin Connauton replied for the Canucks.
The five-day Young Stars Tournament includes teams of rookies from the Oilers, Canucks, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks.
Hall played on the left wing of centre Milan Kytnar and across from Eberle on the right wing. Hall opted to pass, instead of shoot, on an odd-man rush with Eberle, who made it 3-1 for the Oilers late in the second period.
"Definitely some nerves," admitted Hall. "It was my first time putting on the Oilers jersey. It's something I'm not going to forget, but once you get out there, you've got to play hockey and I thought I did well. Our line was pretty good and we had chemistry."
Hall displayed his soft hands and tenacity with the puck. Passing plays were in short supply on both sides as players tried to re-gain their timing after the summer.
"He played hard both ways," Renney said of Hall. "You can see there's a level of intelligence there that maybe separates him from others and certainly the way he anticipates the game. We like that. The competitiveness is obviously there. The first one is out of the way now, so good for him."
While Hall received the loudest ovation of the Oiler introductions, Penticton is still Canucks territory. The sold-out, 5,200-seat South Okanagan Events Centre was firmly behind Vancouver. While several Oiler jerseys dotted the stands, Canuck blue and white dominated.
Devin Stacey, an Edmontonian transplanted to Vancouver and wearing an Oiler jersey, saw Hall play live for the first time.
"He's intense, he's a competitor, everybody knows what he's like," Stacey said. "A goalscorer, drives hard to the net. He's been a winner at all levels already, so the next step is to win at the NHL level."
The Canucks split goaltending duties between Eddie Lack and Michael Houser, who made 13 and four saves respectively.
Notes - Paajarvi's two goals were unassisted . . . While Oiler president and former defenceman Kevin Lowe bequeathed his No. 4 to Hall last week, Hall will wear No. 84 during rookie camp . . . The fire alarm went off briefly during the third period the game, but no one seemed inclined to leave their seats.