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Windsor Spitfires' Taylor Hall celebrates after his goal during second period OHL hockey playoff action on Tuesday, May 4, 2010 in Windsor, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Plante

Greg Plante

Nobody even bothered to email Taylor Hall the last time he was drafted by a professional hockey team. It was not like he would have been all that hard to find, either, as one of the highest-profile junior players in Canada.

The Russian team that selected him opted to let the grapevine do the work, after it picked Hall 89th overall in the Kontinental Hockey League's first NHL-style draft last year. Ak Bars Kazan picked him six spots below Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman, the prospect who has since joined the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"That was funny," Hall said on Friday. "They didn't even call me or anything. I haven't talked to them at all. I thought that was kind of funny. Maybe it was just a jab at Canadian junior hockey."

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The 18-year-old returned to the grandest stage in Canadian junior hockey on Friday night, leading the Windsor Spitfires into the first game of their MasterCard Memorial Cup title defence. Hall was named the tournament MVP last year after helping the Spitfires to the first Canadian championship in franchise history, despite the fact he was only 17 years old.

He is expected to be among the first two selections made at the NHL Entry Draft next month in Los Angeles. And nobody will have to tell him he has been drafted this time, because his name will have been splashed across the hockey world, capping months of rumour and speculation.

"I think there's a lot of stuff I'm going to go through in the next little while here," Hall said. "Soon, I'm going to find out where my hockey career lies, and that's really exciting for me."

Spitfires coach Bob Boughner has a feeling he knows where that path will lead, and he is almost certain it will not take Hall back to Windsor next fall. Hall has spent three seasons with the Spitfires, scoring 123 goals and 280 points over 183 regular-season OHL games.

"I think he's gone," Boughner said. "I think he's ready. He's got everything you need to get to that next level, to play at that next level. He seems to just get better and better ... he'll amaze you, he'll do something every game."

Hall's arrival helped signal a tectonic shift in the fortunes of Windsor's team. Flanked by other NHL-bound stars such as defencemen Ryan Ellis and Cam Fowler, Hall finished in a tie with fellow prospect Tyler Seguin for the OHL's scoring title, with 106 points.

"He's improved in a lot of areas," Windsor general manager Warren Rychel said. "His shot's harder than it was last year, and he's a better passer, too. Every day he comes here, he just wants to be a player - he wants to be an NHLer."

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Boughner was still an NHLer the first time he met Hall, who was born in Calgary, where Boughner was a staple as a hard-hitting defenceman with the Flames. Boughner still has the picture that Hall's mother took of her then-seven-year-old son as he asked Boughner for an autograph.

Boughner has it in his office.

"It made me feel a little old when I saw it, and I had a laugh," he said. "It's amazing how it comes full circle."

That circle could spiral off to Edmonton next month, if the Oilers decide to take Hall with the first overall pick. It could also send him to Boston, where the Bruins hold the second pick, courtesy of a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"Probably the only time I think about it is when the media asks me questions," Hall said. "It's all in fun, but in all honesty, I'm here as a Spitfire, and I want to go out a winner. I want to go out a champion, and I'm ready to fight for my team."

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