SAN JOSE – In my piece on Monday after the Raffi Torres injury news broke, I wrote that rookie Tomas Hertl’s NHL roster spot is a certainty now that there is a sizable hole in San Jose’s top nine.
On Tuesday, I asked Todd McLellan, point blank, if that’s the case. The Sharks’ head coach wouldn’t go that far, but indicated that Hertl is ready to begin his pro career in a teal sweater.
“Do I think Tomas can play in the National Hockey League? I do,” McLellan said. “But, he’s also played against a mixture of American League and NHL players. I think the lineup that Vancouver is bringing in tonight will give us a good indication of how he can play against the Keslers, Sedins and Hamhuis’, and that type of décor.”
Hertl will remain on the wing with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns for the game against the Canucks, which is where he played on Friday vs. Anaheim in his last preseason appearance. In two games, the 19-year-old has a goal and an assist with a +1 rating and two penalty minutes.
Thornton pointed to Hertl’s six-foot-one, 190-pound frame as a particularly advantageous attribute.
“He’s a big man, shoots the puck great, moves really well, sees the ice good. Being so big, I think he creates a little more space for me and Burnzie, as well,” Thornton said.
The Sharks’ captain broke into the league himself when he was 18 years old with the Boston Bruins in 1997. I asked him what the biggest challenges are to playing NHL hockey at such a young age, and with no North American minor league experience.
“The speed of the game from what you’re used to is a lot quicker than probably what he’s used to,” Thornton said. “But, he’s handled it really well. Just the speed of the game, at that age, it seems like everybody’s going 100 miles per hour.”
Hertl’s English, while markedly better it was just two months ago, is much like his game - a work in progress. Thornton is doing his best to communicate to his new linemate.
“We talk, and I don’t know if he understands what we’re saying, but he always nods and smiles,” Thornton said, with a smile himself. “Me and Burnzie will continue to talk to him, and that’s how you grow as a line.”
McLellan said: “We have to do what’s right for our group and try to win as many games as possible, but we also have a young prospect that has to be able to develop and evolve to the best of his abilities, too. Right now, he’s doing a really good job. Let’s let it play out, and watch where it goes.”