SAN JOSE – It’s been nearly a week since the NHL’s unrestricted free agency market opened, and the Sharks have been predictably quiet. That, combined with TJ Galiardi’s trade to Calgary and Marty Havlat’s status in serious doubt for the 2013-14 season, suggests that the Sharks have an open spot on their opening night roster for a winger.
Former first round pick Tomas Hertl, the 17th overall choice in 2012, could be the early odds-on favorite for that vacancy. Just don’t expect anyone in the organization to say that publicly.
“You don’t want to put any of those expectations on somebody,” Sharks scouting director Tim Burke said. “I think he’s going to be in the mix, and it’s going to be up to him.”
Hertl, 19, is among 45 players taking part in Sharks prospect camp this week at the team’s practice facility. His English is still a work in progress, but Hertl was still able to express his goal of being in the Sharks' lineup on opening night.
“I want to [play in] the NHL,” he said. “[It’s my] dream.”
Hertl just completed his second year in the Czech League, scoring a team-leading 30 points (18g, 12a) in 43 games for Slavia Praha. The Sharks organization likes that Hertl has played in a league that features many players older than him, including several ex-NHL’ers.
Burke indicated he was pleased with Hertl’s progress from the time he first visited San Jose last summer, shortly after he was chosen at the NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.
“I think his English is a little bit better, he’s gotten a little bit stronger, he has picked up on a number of things other than the offensive part of it,” Burke said. “He’s closer from some of the things he learned. From last year to this year, he’s definitely getting closer.”
Often, the defensive aspects of the NHL game are trickiest to pick up for a young offensive talent, who may not be relied upon for such things as a teenager. According to Burke, Hertl’s defensive game is already respectable.
Burke said: “I think his defensive awareness has always been pretty good, but it’s on a bigger rink (in Europe). It’s a different kind of a system, but I think he’s picked up some of the stuff here, which will help, so there will be less risk in playing a younger player. He has an appetite for it. Some guys don’t.”
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Hertl is one of two first round picks at camp. The other is defenseman Mirco Mueller, the Sharks' first round pick (18th overall) just a couple weeks ago in Newark, NJ.
Burke was asked his early impressions of the six-foot-three, 183-pound blueliner.
“Good. We’ve thrown a lot of stuff at him and he hasn’t fought it. He’s tried it,” Burke said. “That’s what this is about, is learning new things and trying new things. He’s been what I thought. He picks things up really quickly and he’s got a good athleticism about him. If he’s close to a mistake it’s never really a bad mistake, because he can recover quick. His ability to absorb knowledge and use it quickly is very good.”
Mueller, a native of Switzerland, said he’d like to put on weight while he continues to improve on the ice. Typically at mid-summer NHL prospect camps, there is as much of an emphasis on off-ice activity as there is on-ice instruction.
“I learned new things about how you can optimize your training at the gym, and nutrition is a huge part of it, I’d say,” Mueller said.
“It’s a great week so far, and we’ve learned a lot. There are different players, and different ages, and they’ve played in different leagues. I kind of want to talk to them and ask them things, and it’s a real exciting time for me.”
Mueller will return to the WHL’s Everett Silvertips next season, but said he hopes to challenge for a roster spot for the 2014-15 season. Former Sharks head coach Kevin Constantine was recently named as the head coach of Everett.
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Burke was asked if there has been anyone that’s stood out to him so far in camp, which ends on Friday, and mentioned a couple more of the organization’s defensive prospects.
“[Matt] Tennyson is out there, and looks pretty good. Taylor Doherty is pretty close. He kind of took over the camp as a leader type, and that’s really good to see, because most of the guys that have made it for us have shown the ability to lead in these. Even though it’s a small thing, doing things right time after time adds up after awhile.”
Doherty, a second round pick in 2009, missed a good portion of last season with a sliced Achilles tendon, but has fully recovered, Burke said.