Nothing gets old quite as fast as an NHLer.
There was Kingston's Taylor Hall on Tuesday afternoon, thick tuque pulled down to eyebrows and ears, collar turned up and looking every bit like a kid waiting for a yellow school bus. And yet he's talking about the fleet passage of time and how the "younger players" around him should make time to appreciate what is, what was and what still could be – if you hurry.
That would be Taylor Hall, 26 years of age, leading scorer by 20 points for the surprising New Jersey Devils, and about to play his 500th game, against the Ottawa Senators.
"It came so fast," he says. "I feel like I just got drafted."
Until this year, it was that draft year, 2010, for which Hall was best known. It was the year the once-glorious Edmonton Oilers began their long climb back to respectability. With the No. 1 draft pick, they took Hall, then an 18-year-old scoring sensation with the two-time Memorial-Cup-winning Windsor Spitfires.
With the No. 1 pick the next year, 2011, they took Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a slick centre with the Red Deer Rebels.
And with the No. 1 pick for a third year in a row – a seemingly impossible feat in the era of the lottery pick – they took Russian sensation Nail Yakupov.
Three years later, with yet another No. 1 pick, they selected Connor McDavid from the Erie Otters, a young man considered a "generational talent" who would win the NHL scoring race in only his second season.
The Gretzky-Messier Stanley Cup era was surely returning to the "City of Champions."
Well, so far it hasn't worked out as scripted. A year and a half back, the Oilers decided they needed strengthening on defence and, surprisingly, traded Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson. Yakupov proved a bit of a bust so they traded him to the St. Louis Blues (he is now with the Colorado Avalanche).
Last season all seemed still on schedule, with McDavid the league's brightest star and the Oilers coming within a win of reaching the Western Conference final.
But then came this year, the Oilers are mired in a miserable season, standing 13th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference.
The Devils, on the other hand, are one of the pleasant surprises of the 2017-18 season, standing fifth in their conference, with Hall their leading scorer. He had 51 points on 18 goals and 33 assists as he headed into Tuesday's match with Ottawa with points in the past 10 games he'd played.
Success has not come easily, however. Hall was shattered by the trade. He sulked, thinking he would no longer be part of the great revival in Edmonton. He found New York-New Jersey too hectic, too confusing, the traffic impossible.
The speedy winger got his 20 goals the first year in New Jersey, but he was not as engaged as the Devils had hoped. He had left a team that was suddenly doing great and now with a team that was not doing very well at all. That he was into a "why me?" world was understandable.
Come spring, Devils general manager Ray Shero sat the young man down and had a "tough love" talk with the player. He told him to get over the past and embrace the present. He told him he had to be a better player on the ice and a better person off. He needed to work as hard in the off-season as he did in the season. In other words, he was not acting like a No. 1 draft pick.
"It was more, 'We need you to be better,'" Hall says of Shero's kick in the pants. "I think everyone in the organization had to be better and certainly I had to, too. I think he understood that there is a learning curve and you go through a process to get used to a new team. It's nice that someone has more expectations for you. And I had more expectations for myself."
The wake-up call worked. Hall left his comfortable off-season home in Kingston, moved to Toronto and began working out with the likes of McDavid. He joined Joe Quinn's Power Edge Pro, a training program McDavid had been on since he was in elementary school.
When Hall showed up for training camp and impressed, the Devils made him an assistant captain and, almost instantly, he became a key team leader, especially helpful to the younger players. On Ottawa sports radio Tuesday, the hosts were even debating whether Hall should be part of any discussion concerning the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
"His game is getting more and more complete," says New Jersey head coach John Hynes. "He's always been a very high-chance generator. He pushes offence by the way that he plays. But I think that his attention to detail when he doesn't have the puck, his commitment level and his understanding of when he can go for offence and when he needs to make decisions to play defensively or with a little bit more structure are areas that have gotten better and better. He's got to be able to play on both sides of the puck very well. He understands that. He's committed to it."
He's also delighted with it. Hall says it feels a bit as though he's starting all over, the No. 1 draft pick out to prove himself all over again.
"I haven't been in the playoffs," he says. "I haven't been part of a winning team, so in that sense I don't feel like I've accomplished as much as I'd wanted to in my first 500 games."
Hall's speed has helped transform the Devils from a team considered the definition of boring, system-based hockey to a team that is, for the first time in many years, described as "exciting" to watch.
"We try and play with speed," Hall says. "I think that's the biggest part of our game, just how we can put teams on their heels with our speed and tenacious play. It's perfect for me. We're not too wound up in a system. It's just we try and get pucks back as quickly as possible and get on our horses. It's fun."
As for the Oilers, the team that drafted him and kept him for six years, he no longer feels envy but sympathy. "I feel for them," he says. "That's a tough season to have, especially with the expectations they had. I think they are certainly a way better team than their record suggests. They're going to find their way. It's just a matter of time."
In Taylor Hall's case, it seems his time, finally, is now.
His coach certainly believes the good times are only just beginning for Hall.
"He still has a lot of growth left," Hynes says, "which is exciting for us."