Tomas Hertl was quick to make his presence felt as a rookie in 2013. He tallied his first career point in his first NHL game with an assist on a Brent Burns goal. In his second match, Hertl potted two goals against Mike Smith and the Arizona Coyotes.
Then came the four-goal outing at home against the New York Rangers that made Tomas Hertl a household name among hockey fans everywhere.
The talented forward would go on to net 15 goals and add 10 assists for 25 points in his first 32 NHL games before missing almost the entire second half of the season following a knee-on-knee collision with Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown. Upon returning from injury for the playoffs, Hertl registered five points in seven games against L.A.
His sophomore campaign was a step backwards, and there were concerns that the knee injury would have long-lasting effects on Hertl’s play. He appeared in all 82 of San Jose’s games last season but managed just 13 goals and 31 points, marking a major decline in offensive production.
Now in his third year with the Sharks, Hertl has returned to form, albeit somewhat quietly. He isn’t stealing headlines across the league like he did as a rookie, and we certainly haven’t seen anything as eye-popping as the performance he delivered in his four-goal game, but Hertl is still making major strides.
Last season, Hertl ranked seventh among Sharks forwards who played 20 or more games in 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes with 0.57. This placed him behind the likes of fourth-line center Andrew Desjardins. In points per 60 minutes with the same criteria, Hertl finished the year ranked 10th.
In 68 games this season, Hertl has a career-high 16 goals and 21 assists for 37 points. He’s behind only captain Joe Pavelski in even strength goals per 60 minutes with 0.82, and he’s third among Sharks forwards in 5-on-5 points per 60 minutes with 1.90. His 100.75 PDO ranks fourth among San Jose forwards, and he boasts a team-high Corsi percentage of 55.86%.
Beyond the Numbers
Hertl’s strides this season go beyond analytics and the score sheet; the 22-year-old Czech passes the eye test with flying colors. His defensive play has improved, his speed and agility have reached new heights, he continues to develop a strong physical game, and he has become increasingly adept at using his large frame to protect the puck and cycle down low.
Like a number of Sharks forwards, Hertl is also highly versatile. He was drafted as a center but has spent the majority of his NHL career on Joe Thornton’s wing, where he has enjoyed great success. However, when Logan Couture broke his fibula in October and missed significant time, Hertl was called upon to fill the void left in the middle of the ice. He centered San Jose’s second line for a stretch and was consistently impressive in winning battles for the puck and creating scoring chances.
Hertl is back on Thornton’s wing for now, and the duo is performing well alongside Pavelski. Down the line, though, Hertl is an important piece of the puzzle at center for the Sharks.
Now 36 years old, Thornton continues to play at an elite level but won’t shoulder the burden of being San Jose’s first-line pivot for much longer. Pavelski — also drafted as a center — is a winger now, seemingly for the long haul. Patrick Marleau has spent lengthy chunks of his career in the middle and has played center for stretches this season, but all signs point to his time in teal coming to an end shortly.
Couture, 26, is in his prime and signed for three years after this season. He’s a prototypical No. 2 pivot and an integral part of the Sharks’ core, but the team needs a long-term No. 1 to take Thornton’s place.
Hertl, if he continues to make the strides he’s made this season, could be that player.
Sam Kelly is an experienced sports writer with a passion for the game of hockey. He currently covers the San Jose Sharks for The Hockey Writers and is a production assistant at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. He’ll never forgive the Sharks for blowing a three-game series lead over the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2014 playoffs.