Tomas Hertl came into the NHL like a bolt of lightning. By the time he had finished his third NHL game, he had six goals to his credit. He pulled a hat trick in his third game. Then for good measure, scored a jaw-dropping fourth goal that made the top highlight of pretty much every sports show that covers hockey. Hertl potted 15 goals in the first 34 games of his career. Even if one subtracts out the wonderful but anomalous four-goal game, it still averages out to one goal every three games or just under 30 goals for a season. That total came without a major contribution from the power play. Hertl was cruising to the Calder Trophy as rookie-of-the-year.
The highly skilled youngster saw his rookie season derailed during game 35, due to a knee-on-knee collision with Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown. Hertl would have surgery and rehab his knee. To the surprise of many, he returned for the final two games of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. But he clearly wasn’t the explosive player he had been prior to the knee injury. With an offseason to continue his recovery, it was hoped Hertl’s second season would deliver a bounce back performance. Alas, it wasn’t the case. Hertl struggled through a difficult sophomore season (2014-15), putting up only 13 goals. If there was a silver lining, it was that Hertl played all 82 games and got an understanding of the rigors of a full NHL season.
To prepare for his third NHL season, Hertl decided he needed to get stronger and did a major revision of his diet. The results have been noticeable.
Through four games this season, Hertl has three points. What is more noteworthy, though, is how those points were scored. In the opener against the Kings, Hertl got his first goal of the season by battling to the front of the net on a power play. He went to the area where he needed to be strong, and he was strong.
The second goal of the year came against the Capitals. He was posted up in front of the crease, with the 6’3″, 220lb Karl Alzner leaning on him and trying to force him away from the crease. Hertl spun out of Alzner’s attempt to contain him and moved to the net front where he banged home a rebound.
Hertl’s third point came against the Devils and it was his most critical point so far. It was an assist where he battled two New Jersey defenders along the end boards. He was able to win the puck battle and slide it over to Joel Ward. Ward then made a crisp feed to Patrick Marleau who fired in the goal from point-blank range. It was the Sharks only score in regulation. The Sharks would win in a shootout.
Hertl’s raw talent was evident in his rookie year, but he has clearly become something more early this season. His ability to use size and strength is impressive for a player who is still just 21 years old.
A major part of the Sharks season depends on younger players taking the proverbial next step. For Hertl, the year and a half following his knee injury was a large step back. Early in this season, he appears to have taken a very large step forward and his overall play has been a key part of the Sharks early season success. Sharks fans hope his strong play continues to be a factor all season long.