SAN JOSE – It didn’t take long for Tomas Hertl to make an impression in his first game action since the middle of December.
Just a minute and a half into the first period on Friday vs. Colorado, the 20-year-old rookie showed a burst of speed while bringing the puck into the offensive zone. He unleashed a slap shot from the circle that very well may have been destined for the far top corner before it was snagged by Avalanche goalie Reto Berra.
“His very first shift he comes down and takes a shot on goal. That had to make him feel good,” said Todd McLellan, after the 5-1 Sharks win at SAP Center. “You couldn’t draw it up any better than that. He’s involved in a scoring chance right off the bat. I’m sure when he came back to the bench he felt confident, and like he belonged again.”
Joe Thornton said: "He looked good. He's missed so much time, I'm sure his timing was off a little bit, but he looked strong. He had a great start of the game. I thought he was going to score off of that first slapper.”
That was one of just two recorded shots on the night for Hertl in exactly 15 minutes of ice time, but the rookie nearly found the net again in the third period after aggressively cutting to the slot and ringing a shot off of the goal post. Other moments of note include a wraparound attempt that almost deflected in off of Tommy Wingels with seven minutes left in the first period, and a takeaway of the puck from Gabriel Landeskog in the second, just before he set up Justin Braun for a point blast midway through regulation.
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Hertl will play again on Saturday night in Phoenix in the final tune-up before the playoffs start at home next week against Los Angeles. He was asked how he felt after the final home game of the regular season and the club’s annual Fan Appreciation Night.
“Not good. … It’s a long time, a little bit tired,” Hertl said. “I am happy [that] today we [won], and because it’s [the] last game of regular season here for fans, it’s a nice day.”
He indicated he was pleased to get some good looks, but that scoring is not a priority in his case at this point, as the Sharks are already locked into playoff position.
Still, he offered up another potential t-shirt worthy quote for any sports fan in the Bay Area.
“Playoff time it’s more important, because it’s LA. I not much like LA this season,” said Hertl, whose season was derailed by a knee-on-knee hit from the Kings’ Dustin Brown on Dec. 19.
McLellan will continue to keep a close eye on one of the future cornerstones of the franchise, of course. Hertl, who had 15 goals in his first 35 games before tearing the MCL and PCL ligaments in his right knee, skated on a line with Wingels and James Sheppard at even strength, and saw some time on the second power play unit, as well.
“Tomas was actually a little bit better than I thought he might be,” McLellan said. “The real test will be tomorrow back-to-back, and how he feels in the morning. He made some good plays along the boards. I thought he settled in.”