Tomas Hertl May Never Hit His Potential

Tomas Hertl continues to rehab in efforts of returning to the San Jose Sharks’ lineup. Once he gets clearance to play, head coach Peter DeBoer may find himself in a dilemma. The recent influx of talent has caused DeBoer to pencil different lineups recently with some veterans being left off. Joel Ward and David Schlemko have been healthy scratches with little explanation given. While Ward has been professional about not being in the lineup, Schlemko’s removal has been a head scratcher.

Perhaps San Jose is finally benefitting from having prospects ready to play in the NHL, making the dilemma a nice situation to have. Kevin Labanc has been impressive since his call up from the San Jose Barracuda. Last game, he scored two goals, including the overtime winner, against the Edmonton Oilers. Timo Meier finally made his debut, recently potting his first NHL goal in Montreal. The Sharks can only hope the young players build success from the season and into the playoffs.

Back to Hertl, who is only 23, but his hard luck with injuries has hurt his young career. Time is on Hertl’s side as his wounds should heal quickly being young. However, unless the former first round pick can remain healthy and meet expectations when drafted, Hertl could see himself out of the Sharks’ future.

An Unknown Making a Big Splash

A native of the Czech Republic, Hertl was taken 17th overall by San Jose in the 2012 draft. Odd were Hertl would not appear in teal until he reached the American Hockey League for seasoning. However, his time over in Europe indicated to Sharks’ general manager Doug Wilson the NHL was the next destination. Hertl spent two full seasons with Slavia Praha HC accumulating 55 points in 82 games. Only a teenager at the time, Hertl was playing against older players in a physical league.

Hertl’s growth in Europe paved the way to earn a roster spot when training camp opened for the 2013-14 season. Although his name surfaced from the offseason, being ready to play in the NHL was a question. Despite having the size to play the center position, an opportunity to play alongside Joe Thornton would help ease his transition into the NHL. After a solid training camp, Hertl proved ready for the big stage. Fear for most young players from management is development hindering when a player is struggling to keep up with play.

As for Hertl, he made San Jose fans take notice he was going be an exciting player to watch for many seasons to come. His breakout came in a home contest against the New York Rangers. Hertl scored a beauty of goal, a between the legs shot, to cap a four-goal night. His electrifying performance made him an instant fan favorite with #teenagemutantninjahertl trending on Twitter. In 37 games, Hertl notched 25 points with the makings of being a future star in the NHL.

Injuries Impacting Play

The Calder Trophy for the NHL’s top rookie would have gone to Hertl had he not suffered a knee injury against Los Angeles. A dirty play from Dustin Brown of the Lose Angeles Kings knocked Hertl out of the game, resulting in surgery to repair the damage. Insult to injury was given when the NHL chose not to act on Brown. Hertl would return but had a minimal impact.

Tomas Hertl (Photo credit Zeke/THW)
Tomas Hertl (Photo credit Zeke/THW)

Flashback to last season where Hertl delivered his best season for San Jose, registering 46 points in 81 games. Along with Logan Couture, he was perhaps the Sharks’ best skater during the playoffs. Unfortunately, Hertl played only one game in the Stanley Cup Final after suffering an injury. Had Hertl not gone down, he may have been the difference maker for San Jose to prevail over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In 17 games this season, Hertl had nine points and was beginning to find his scoring touch. Just when Hertl was about to heat up, the unfortunate happened, as he injured the same knee he had hurt during his rookie season. Surgery seemed likely, but the damage was not as severe. A minor procedure was done to prevent another serious injury from past collisions. Hertl is still rehabbing with an uncertain timeframe for his return.

Health is becoming a concern for Hertl as he cannot afford to miss significant time given the current players on San Jose’s roster. Hertl’s play has dipped when coming off injuries and not just from finding his game legs after injury. At times, Hertl has been hesitant with his play. Instead of letting game instincts take over, Hertl appears uncomfortable and is unable to unleash his full potential.

Future Uncertain Going Forward

(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

A smile almost guaranteed to brighten any face; Hertl could be in an unfamiliar position once he returns to the lineup. He will certainly have to play at a consistent level each game to avoid being a healthy scratch. Where DeBoer slots Hertl will remain to be seen. Hertl could be suited best on a line with Meier and Labanc as the two look to stay in San Jose.

Patrick Marleau and Thornton will not be in San Jose much longer as a younger generation of Sharks’ prospects looks ready to jump into the NHL. Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, and Couture will likely bridge the gap and be the cornerstones of keeping San Jose competitive.

Health will be critical for Hertl to have a future in San Jose. He still has all the abilities to be a leader alongside Meier and possibly Nikolay Goldobin as the next scoring threats on San Jose’s top line in the coming years. Hertl has a great role model in the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr, his childhood idol, to play in the NHL for a long time. However, his knee injuries have seemingly impacted how he plays. Should injuries get the best of Hertl, he may never hit his full potential San Jose expected.