COMMENTARY | Just 19 years old, San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, is little known outside of his native Czech Republic, even in San Jose. If the Sharks are going to contend for the Pacific Division crown this season, that will likely change.
The 17th overall selection of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Hertl has skated this preseason alongside Joe Thornton and Brent Burns on the team's first line, and has contributed with three goals and one assist in three games, including two in the Sharks' 5-0 win over Vancouver on September 24. Going into that game, coach Todd McLellan positioned it as a key test for Hertl and other young Sharks, as the Canucks were suiting up more of their regulars than in their first exhibition matchup. Glancing at the score sheet, it looks like Hertl passed that test.
Provides scoring punch
Hertl is a strong skater and can flash some serious speed, but his biggest asset for the Sharks is his deft scoring touch. Playing in 48 games last year in the top professional league in the Czech Republic, Hertl scored 18 goals and dished 12 assists.
Last season, the Sharks suffered through prolonged periods of anemic offensive production, and particularly suffered from little secondary scoring from the third and fourth lines. Regardless of which line Hertl skates on, he adds a key scoring threat from the faceoff circles down, and is a player opposing defensemen will need to concentrate on.
Big enough to carry a bullseye
Although Hertl is 6'2", 210 lbs. and growing, a recurring fear among NHL coaches and general managers is the impact the grind - both physical and mental - a long NHL season has on young players. The NHL is certainly different than the top Czech league and the demands on a young player away from home can become overwhelming.
As a veteran club, the Sharks have strong leadership in the dressing room, and have the benefit of both Thornton and Patrick Marleau to offer mentoring based on their past experiences as hot-shot teenage scoring phenoms. Additionally, the Sharks have former player Mike Ricci in the organization just to develop players like Hertl.
What the Sharks lack, however, is a bodyguard. Built in the image of the Detroit Red Wings, where McLellan was a longtime assistant, the Sharks don't have an enforcer to skate as a deterrent to opponents taking liberties with Hertl and others. A key question is whether Hertl can withstand rigors of a draining regular season and still be fresh for the playoffs.
Breaking out on opening night
Hertl is too talented not to make the Sharks' opening night roster, and the Sharks are likely to give him ten early season games as an extended tryout, keeping a close eye on both his contributions and his further development. In the past, the Sharks have been fond of deploying the "Worcester Express," shuttling young players back and forth between San Jose and the Sharks' AHL affiliate in Worcester. Hertl will have two weeks to show McLellan and general manager Doug Wilson he belongs on the roster full time.
If Hertl's summer league and preseason form continues, he will stick with the Sharks and quickly become a key producer. When that happens, rest assured the rest of the NHL will quickly take notice of the rookie, and Hertl's breakout season will land him squarely in the conversation come Calder Trophy time.
@RayHartjen is a longtime rink rat who's been on a decades-long quest to get the stink of hockey gloves off his hands.
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