TORONTO - A panel of nine educated hockey men had seven days to decide whether Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall would finish the season ranked as the most desirable prospect heading into the NHL Entry Draft.
"The vote every day was 5-4," said E.J. McGuire, director of NHL Central Scouting. "But every day, it was a different guy."
The panel rendered its verdict in April, and its decision has been debated ever since, with the discussion carrying over into the NHL Scouting Combine this weekend in Toronto. Seguin ended the season ranked No. 1, with Hall one spot behind, and the two have been compared, contrasted and questioned all over again as teams seek to make final edits on their draft boards.
The Edmonton Oilers are set to pick first next month in Los Angeles, followed by the Boston Bruins. Both teams have met with both players, who finished in tie for the OHL's regular season scoring crown, with 106 points.
"I think it comes down to the meetings they have here at the combine, and their overall depth charts," McGuire said. "There are so many factors on that depth chart now: When is a player with Edmonton or Boston going to become a free agent, and (does) the general manager have a master plan?"
Dozens of players were put through a series of gruelling exercises in front of NHL officials, team executives and reporters on Friday, with another round set for Saturday. Seguin participated in the full program while Hall, only days removed from hoisting the MasterCard Memorial Cup for the second year in a row, begged off due to injury.
The evaluation extended beyond the physical activities in the ballroom of a Toronto hotel. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli visited Seguin at his family home in nearby Brampton earlier in the week, and said plans are in the works to visit Hall's home in the coming weeks.
"We're going to get one of those two," Chiarelli said. "They're terrific kids, and they're good players in their own way."
Seguin, a natural centre, finished the OHL season with 48 goals and 58 assists with the Plymouth Whalers. Hall had 40 goals and 66 assists with the Windsor Spitfires, and avenged his No. 2 ranking in a second-round series sweep of the Whalers in the playoffs.
Hall became the first player to win the Memorial Cup MVP award in back-to-back years, having led the Spitfires to a dominant run to the title last weekend. The 18-year-old winger led the tournament in scoring even after he suffered a back injury during a frightening collision with the end boards in the first period of the first game.
Both players have shown the ability to play in other positions, with Seguin at wing and with Hall at centre. And each player has been answering questions about the other all season.
"Sometimes, you might get a little tired with the same questions all the time, and the same answers," Seguin said on Friday. "You know, actually, just talking with him yesterday—we were driving to MTV—and we were having fun with it. This draft year comes around one time, and to have this much attention, it's the only thing you can ask for, right?"
Seguin said he has been interviewed by 10 teams. Hall said he has chatted with nine.
"When you're a 40-year-old guy and you're sitting there, and you've played 20 years in the NHL, I really don't think whether you go No. 1 or 2 really matters," Hall said. "At the end of the day, it's how many winning teams you've been on, and how many Stanley Cups you've won."
Hall said he suffered a back injury at the Memorial Cup, and admitted Friday he was nursing a knee injury, but claimed both would be healed by rest. He said he planned to spend some of his time before the draft on a beach somewhere—though it is not known if any beach would offer a break from answering questions about Seguin.
"Both kids are really articulate and really well-spoken," McGuire said. "They've got a healthy competitiveness—and they will, because they're not going to play for the same team. So, when Boston meets Edmonton, we'll have another round of comparison."
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