Between the Legs
Everyone in the hockey world was introduced to San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl last year when he delivered a four goal performance last October. The young forward capped off his night against the New York Rangers with a ridiculous between the legs goal.
However, lost in the hoopla of the final goal was the awesomeness that was his second tally of the evening. Certainly there is help from Dan Boyle’s broken stick but Hertl’s hockey sense on this play is incredible. He knows exactly how far apart the defenders are (eyes in the back of his head perhaps) and penetrates the middle. The Czech native then finishes off the breakaway with arguably an even sicker finish than the between the legs goal (more realistic great finish anyway). You want to see quick hands? Hertl nearly does the Charlie Conway triple deke in the blink of an eye. Check out the dirty second goal at the 53 second mark below.
Attacking the Center
Hertl scored multiple goals last season in similar fashion. That second goal vs the Rangers is eerily similar to his first career goal against the Phoenix Coyotes. Only this time Hertl went to the backhand. Partially aided by a poor Coyotes line change, Hertl again receives a pass just outside the blue-line and drives the net. He instinctively jets through the middle and scores with a strong flick of the wrists. The young forward is clearly a rare breed. It is difficult to think of many comparable players. With his size, strength, speed, play-making, and scoring abilities, he’s probably most similar to Pittsburgh Penguin’s star Evgeni Malkin. Obviously Hertl is not at Malkin’s level but if you were to compare him style wise to any other player, it would be the Russian super star.
Like Malkin, Hertl has a big frame at 6’2 and he’s a strong kid. He already weighs in at 210 pounds as a 20-year-old with room to bulk up. With that size, Hertl has the Joe Thornton-like ability to hang onto pucks in the corners but unlike Joe, he loves to shoot. When you combine the size and speed with his drive to score goals (particularly his fearlessness to attack the middle), and Hertl has the potential to be a consistent 30 goal, 80 point player in the future. He has that natural nose for the net. Those two goals weren’t the only breakaway tallies among his 15 rookie scores.
Granted scoring a goal against Ondrej Pavelec isn’t the most difficult thing in the world but talk about being shot out of a cannon. Hertl hops over the boards and immediately blazes through the center of the ice with the Jets defense seemingly stuck in a holding pattern. And again, what sweet hands on the finish. You may think these are just three lucky goals but they account for 20% of Hertl’s scoring output before his injury. Furthermore, he had numerous chances in similar fashion (splitting the defense) that didn’t end up in the back of the net. Hey, he can’t score every time, right?
Healthy & Prime to Shine
Reports are that Hertl has fully recovered from the knee injury that forced him to miss nearly the entire second half of last year. He managed to play in the postseason at less than full strength and still managed a fantastic series against the Kings, two goals, three assists, and 19 shots on goal.
There is always concern about the ever common sophomore slump, but I’m certainly not expecting that from Hertl. Playing alongside Thornton, I have forecast him to lead the Sharks with 35 goals this season. His net drive is like no other Sharks player I’ve ever seen before. He might actually be a secret mutant ninja.