Tomas Hertl quite literally caused the hockey world to lose its collective mind during his first week of play. Likewise, Sean Monahan has turned the hockey world on its ear as he’s lead the Calgary Flames to a respectable start. So naturally the question is to ask who’s been better? Hertl for the San Jose Sharks of Monahan for the Flames?
Let’s establish one thing before we continue: they’ve both been incredible. To be able to step into the best hockey league on the planet and do what they’ve done as teenagers is a remarkable accomplishment. Ask Sidney Crosby if the Calder Trophy can go to more than one player though, and he’ll ruggedly answer “no” because that’s the only individual trophy the Kid will never be able to win.
Not that he’s losing any sleep over it, but we digress.
Let’s propose a hypothetical scenario here then. Let’s say the league decided to wipe the slate clean and release all players from their contracts, say, like they threatened to do during the 2013 lockout. Assume you’re a team owner and maybe you have a case of the Patrick Kanes and like to party too much and you show up for the re-draft five rounds late.
All the superstars are off the board, but you notice that no one has taken Hertl or Monahan yet. You’re on the clock, and you’ve narrowed it down to these two. Who do you take?
This is a toughie because both forwards are so responsible in the neutral and defensive zones. For hard questions like this, two-way prowess is a hockey writer’s refuge. “Yeah, player X can score 129 points in a season, but he’s lazy in his own zone!” That’s one of the most frequently heard arguments in just about any debate about player superiority.
That card won’t fly here though. Monahan was hailed as the most complete two-way player in his draft class, and Hertl is no slouch in his own end either. General manager Doug Wilson spoke to the National Post recently about Hertl’s abilities as a defensive forward:
It’s not just the offensive numbers. This kid is very poised in his own zone, he makes really smart plays protecting the puck, and to us he’s a three-zone player that just fits in with how we want to play and where we’re going with our team.
At 19, this is high praise coming from your boss.
A buzz word surrounding Monahan has been “sustainability.” That’s another refuge for hockey writers. It’s their way of saying “we didn’t see this coming, but he can’t keep doing it so who cares?” Right now he’s scoring on more than 28% of his shots. Can he keep doing that? Probably not, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that he has been doing that.
Like Crosby or Alex Ovechkin never went on a 30-game tear where they put up “unsustainable” percentages.
Hertl’s been shooting the puck with just about as much accuracy though. 25% of his shots have gone in so far this season. Monahan has
six goals and Hertl has seven. They both have a single game-winning tally to their credit and both have taken up spots on their respective team’s top line.
They both stand at 6’2″ and Monahan will eventually push 200 pounds like Hertl does right now. Neither player has taken a penalty, and neither player has gone two straight games without a point yet.
If this was a real cage match between Monahan and Hertl, this would be one of those weird cases where both players knock each other out simultaneously and the match is called a draw. That’s not a cop out. Both of these guys have just been too outstanding and are neck-in-neck in just about every conceivable way.
Regardless of who you’re rooting for, this class of rookies has been incredible so far this season. We haven’t even mentioned top-pick Nathan MacKinnon or the minute-munching Seth Jones.
On November 12, the Sharks and Flames will play each other again, and this debate will be fun to revisit in a few weeks.
If you’re that hypothetical manager, who do you take? What’re your thoughts on these two dynamic youngsters?