Whenever injuries pile up for any NHL team, you’ll always hear coaches telling the media about how it’s just a chance for a youngster to step up and play big. Tomas Hertl played in his first regular season game for the San Jose Sharks and did exactly that as Adam Burish, Martin Havlat and Raffi Torres all sat out due to various aliments.
He’s not going to get the same kind of fanfare as Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, or even Valeri Nichushkin of the Dallas Stars, but Hertl could be a serious contender for the Calder Trophy if he continues to play with this level of intensity.
While the 19 year-old didn’t score a goal, he was noticeable with and without the puck. That’s huge for a teenager, as sometimes the younger players only care about playing hard in the offensive zone. That isn’t the case with Hertl, who was a monster on the forecheck and never took a shift off.
Skating on a line with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns might have intimidated some kids. The pressure might have pushed them away from their game a bit. Instead, Hertl elevated his level of play to match that of Burns and Thornton, and the trio was highly effective all night. They were able to create space with their collective size, and drew several power plays by driving to the net and working hard along the boards.
To me, that’s where Hertl really stood out. His work ethic was evident any time he got into a 50/50 puck battle, and he seemed to always come away the victor. Standing at 6’2″ and weighing in at 210 pounds, Hertl obviously isn’t a player who’s afraid to use his size.
Todd McLellan clearly won’t be afraid to use Hertl down the stretch either. His strong play was rewarded as he saw more than 16 minutes of ice time. Sometimes coaches will ease rookies into high-volume minutes, but Hertl played his guts out all night and earned his time. While Hertl is still a ways off from being a 20-minute beast like Joe Pavelski, he still managed to get more than four minutes of power-play time as well.
Hertl could evolve into a top-end threat with the extra man, as his shot is deadly. This debut was incredibly successful though, and on a night that saw several notable rookies notch their first points, Hertl’s performance without the puck is what really set him apart from the pack.
One game doesn’t turn a player into a star, but this is an awesome start for the former 17th-overall pick.