Hertl's game translating to NHL with ease

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
4:57
PM ET


Imagine the view if Joe Thornton had been wearing a helmet cam Tuesday night.

The San Jose Sharks captain was at the net looking for a rebound when linemate Tomas Hertl beat New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron with a trick shot heard around the world.

"Who thinks of that?" said Thornton with a chuckle in a phone conversation with ESPN.com on Wednesday after practice.

Not many 19-year-old rookies playing their third NHL game, that’s for sure.

"Really, what a goal," Thornton said. "That just shows you how much confidence a young kid like that has right now. To pull off something like that, it’s pretty spectacular. We were just in awe at that point."

Hertl’s four-goal night was the talk of the league after Tuesday’s game, the Sharks’ PR staff flooded with media requests for the Czech native, who doesn’t speak a whole lot of English.

Which is why Thornton wasn’t sure if the kid was absorbing all the jokes in the dressing room after Tuesday night’s victory, with his older teammates absolutely taken by what they saw from the young product who has six goals and one assist in three games. But if you’ve been around the Sharks -- anyone ever meet Brent Burns? -- you know that’s a room where a sense of humor is a prerequisite.

"I’m not sure how much he understands of what we’re saying to him, but we were just all having fun and laughing," Thornton said. "It’s just nice to see that big smile of his. It’s contagious. We had some good laughs with him."

It’s just three games, folks, and maybe the kid hits a wall in a month and tails off. But you can’t ignore the talent that’s been on display from the 17th overall pick in the 2012 draft.

"He just loves to finish. That’s a goal scorer. He loves to score goals," Thornton said. "Right now, he’s finding the back of the net, and he’s excited to score goals. You just sit back and watch. It’s something else right now."

Of course, playing on a line with Thornton and Burns doesn’t hurt. That's a heck of a way to find oneself with scoring opportunities galore.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson was telling me a year ago to remember the name Tomas Hertl. For those who have spoken to Wilson over the years, he’s not one for hefty praise. He prefers his players’ actions to do the talking. But you could tell last season when the veteran GM would talk about the Czech forward that he was cautiously excited about what was coming down the pipe.

"He has smooth hands, good vision, and his hockey IQ is real good," NHL director of central scouting Dan Marr told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "He’s got some offensive hockey sense where he recognizes opportunity and he’s got the abilities to capitalize on it."

The 2012 draft was Marr’s first as NHL scouting director. He recalls central scouting having Hertl as the fifth-ranked European skater.

"The one little concern was whether his skating would pick up to transcend his game to the NHL level. And obviously it has," Marr said.

It’s not as if he slipped to 17th in 2012. That’s about where most people had him at the time.

"He should have been in that 15-to-20 range, and he was," Marr said. "Had he been an explosive skater, he probably would have been considered higher by a couple of teams, higher than where he was taken.

"When you’re drafting these kids at that age, you’re projecting improvements and physical maturity. They already knew he was strong. Their projection had to do with, 'Can we make him faster? Can we improve his skating?' You just weren’t sure in his draft year if his skating improvements would transcend to the NHL or how quickly they would. San Jose has a pretty good track record at developing young players and getting them to the NHL."

Former NHL GM Craig Button, now director of NHL scouting for Canadian sports TV network TSN, said two things stood out to him in Hertl’s draft year.

"One, excellent sense and feel for the game. Two, he threatened offensively both making plays and shooting," Button wrote in an email to ESPN.com on Wednesday. "He didn't possess what one would call 'blazing' speed, but he had a lightning quick mind and was always up to the pace of the game.

"When I watched him play in his draft year and last season, I saw similarities to Logan Couture, ironically, and it is another reminder that playing is not about style necessarily but about productivity. Tomas is productive and is the type of player who can adapt very well to different situations, playing different positions and playing with different players because he is so smart."

Like Couture, the Sharks weren’t simply drafting skill. They were drafting character.

"The other thing that I have always admired about Tomas is that he doesn't get deterred in his approach," Button said. "Whether it be his attitude or the challenges confronting him, he is always trying to be productive."

The question was how Hertl would make the transition coming across the pond to play in the top league in the world. It’s a big jump for anyone.

"He came here in the summertime. We were all working out and you saw him then," Thornton said. "I just think every couple of weeks you’ll see a big stride with him. It just seems with each game he keeps getting better and getting more confident. As a young player, it’s important to get that confidence early because you can really grow from that. And he is."

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