When the Devils started last season 9-2-0, Hall felt they would be capable of challenging for a playoff spot. The Devils finished as the second wild card from the Eastern Conference but lost in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. It was a significant improvement from finishing last in the East and 28th in the NHL in 2016-17.
“We have to be proud of our season, but we also have to know there’s a long way to go. It’s hard to get out of the basement, it really is,” Hall said. “It’s hard to get out of the basement and make the playoffs. Now I think the hardest step is going from making the playoffs to being a team that can challenge for the Cup. I’m really looking forward to trying to do that.”
Hall spoke last offseason about how much it was wearing on him, never making the postseason in his first seven NHL seasons (six with the Edmonton Oilers). He showed through his play last season how much he meant it, scoring an NHL career-high 39 goals and 93 points and winning the Hart Trophy as MVP.
“Definitely proud of that, for our team, for myself personally, it was a successful season,” the 26-year-old said. “I think now I’ve maybe kind of vaulted myself up into that tier of players and want to stay there.”
Last season, he had at least one point in 26 consecutive games he played, from Jan. 2-March 6, and in 36 of his final 40 games.
“The guys that are great year in, year out, they play well right from the start of the season and carry teams to the playoffs, and hopefully I can make that happen again this year, not just be a guy that has a good year and kind of falls back a bit,” Hall said. “I’m pretty committed to having another successful season.”
Hall said he expects Nico Hischier, who was selected No. 1 in the 2017 NHL Draft and centered the top line with him, to play a big role in the Devils’ progression. Hall credited Hischier for a lot of his individual success and said he was surprised Hischier, who had 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) in 82 games, did not receive more attention.
“He was awesome. He was probably the biggest impact on my season [last] year, being able to play with him all season long,” Hall said. “If he was playing in Toronto or a big market that would have a lot more spotlight, I think he’d have a bigger name, a lot more recognition, certainly a lot more Calder Trophy votes than he had.
“He had 50 points as a centerman as an 18-year-old and us playing on a line together. We played against the other team’s top line every night. I’m proud to be his teammate and play on a line with him.”
Hall said winning the Hart Trophy was a nice recognition, but eight years into his NHL career his only focus is pushing the Devils further into the playoffs.
“I don’t know if the award [proved I could be a top player]. I’ve always been trying to do that on my own,” Hall said. “You want the recognition, you want the pressure, you want the accolades and all that, but at the end of the day it’s about helping your team as much as you can and winning hockey games, and I was able to do that more often than not and that’s what made it so fun.
“I’m not after the points or anything like that. I just want at the end of my career to say I’m a Stanley Cup winner and really had an impact on the teams I played on.”