EDMONTON — With eyes fixed on the future, the Edmonton Oilers reached into their storied past Wednesday as president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe presented Taylor Hall with jersey No. 4.
In a symbolic and timely gesture, Lowe, the Oilers first-ever draft pick and only player to wear the number since Edmonton entered the NHL in 1979, passed his No. 4 to Hall, the centrepiece of a full-scale rebuild in Edmonton and the franchise’s first No. 1 overall draft pick.
“It’s a very cool number,” Hall said. “It’s just kind of passing the torch, you know?
“He’s been a big part of this organization for a very long time and I realize that. At the same time, they feel I’m a player who can come in and make an impact. Maybe wearing this No. 4 is going to do that.”
The 18-year-old wore No. 4 in leading the Windsor Spitfires to two straight Memorial Cup titles with back-to-back MVP performances before the Oilers selected him first overall in Los Angeles on June 25.
Lowe, who won five Stanley Cups with Edmonton and a sixth with the New York Rangers, made the presentation with GM Steve Tambellini and fellow first-round draft picks Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi looking on.
“When I was watching games last year, watching Taylor play, that number on a forward jumps out at you,” Lowe said. “I saw him and I said, ’He looks good in No. 4.’ He’s deserving of No. 4. It’s really as simple as that.”
The question about what number Hall would wear has been part of the hoopla surrounding him since draft day. Hall wore No. 10, signifying his draft year, when the Oilers selected him.
Hall wore No. 19 at a development camp in Edmonton this summer. At a charity golf tournament for the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton last week, a Hall jersey with no number was auctioned for $30,000. The bidders will get the jersey, complete with number, Hall wore Wednesday.
“There’s been a lot of things happen the past few months where I’ve just sort of had to pinch myself,” Hall said. “I still have a job to do, but for him to pass his number on to me shows a lot of respect. It also shows what they expect of me. They don’t expect me to come in here and be an average player.
“They expect me to be a big part of this team and be a big contributor just like Kevin was.”
Lowe’s No. 4 isn’t one of seven numbers officially retired by the Oilers, but it hasn’t been made available since he hung up his skates after the 1997-98 season.
Nobody wore Mark Messier’s No. 11 before it was retired at Rexall Place. Likewise, Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99 and Al Hamilton’s No. 3. It was a sign of respect that stood until those numbers were raised to the rafters. That’s a rarity in Oiler annals.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s right for the organization,” Lowe said. “You see a kid like that, what he represents, I got to know him and his family over time.
“I love the fact that he talks about trying to win Stanley Cups. That’s exciting for me. Like I say, Vinny Lecavalier looks right in No. 4 and I think Taylor Hall looks right in No. 4.”
Glenn Anderson is in the Hall of Fame and had his No. 9 retired by the team, but it was worn by Bill Guerin, Mike Watt, Ralph Intranuovo, Shayne Corson, Bernie Nicholls and Jim Harrison.
Grant Fuhr shared his No. 31 with Curtis Joseph, Fred Brathwaite and Ed Mio. Jarri Kurri’s No. 17 has been worn by Scott Thornton, Cam Connor and Rem Murray. Paul Coffey’s No. 7 was worn by Daniel Cleary, Fredrik Lindquist, Jason Arnott, Martin Gelinas, Mark Lamb and Ron Chipperfield.
“I did talk to Taylor about it,” Lowe said. “I wanted to make sure that, in fact, he wanted to wear No. 4.
“I didn’t want to assume anything, but I knew from the moment I laid eyes on him that if we were going to draft him, chances are he’d be getting No. 4. It wasn’t difficult by any stretch.”