SAN JOSE -- The NHL’s leading rookie scorer, Tomas Hertl played against his idol Jaromir Jagr twice in the Czech League during last year’s lockout.
On Saturday, the two will meet for the first time on an NHL rink, when the Sharks host the New Jersey Devils at SAP Center.
Jagr spoke with the media for five entertaining minutes on Saturday, fielding question after question about the 20-year-old fellow Czech native that is already drawing comparisons to the future Hall of Famer.
“He’s a good player, no question about it,” Jagr said.
When it was pointed out to Jagr that Hertl idolized him growing up, Jagr said through a wide grin: “I’m got to give him a challenge today, that’s for sure. I’ve might get my first hit of the season. I’ve got to end my streak, I guess.”
The 41-year-old, who leads the Devils with 18 points, has zero hits through the first 22 games of the season.
Interestingly, Jagr pointed out that Hertl’s home arena in Slavia Praha in the Czech League featured an NHL-sized ice surface, rather than the bigger rinks typically found on the other side of the Atlantic. Those two seasons there, combined with Hertl’s six-foot-three, 210-pound frame, allowed him to quickly adapt to the NHL style of play.
“There’s a lot of guys in Europe that have got a lot of talent, but when they come to the U.S. they might have a tough time because they don’t know how to play along the boards or in the corners,” said Jagr. “That’s not his problem. He was playing that kind of style in Europe, so you knew it was a matter of time he was going to be good in the NHL.”
Jagr agreed that he and Hertl have some similarities. Jagr also stands at six-foot-three, and was aided in his early years by playing on the same team as Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh. For Hertl, linemate Joe Thornton can play the role that Mario played for Jagr.
“He’s playing a similar style. I like to play on the boards. I like to play in the corners. And, he’s got a lot of skill, and he’s shown it,” Jagr said.
“He’s playing with Joe, so he can learn a lot from him. I love Joe and the way he plays. If he had a chance to learn something, that’s the guy. Like I had Mario, he’s got Joe.”
Back in his home country, Hertl is already being hailed as the next Jagr. Jagr was asked how many times that has happened.
“Probably No. 3. That’s not bad through 25 years, but two didn’t make it [to the NHL],” Jagr said, still smiling.
“He’s got the potential to be a top guy. It’s up to him how he’s going to handle it.”
What about Hertl’s excitement to play against him in NHL competition?
“Well, he doesn’t know the hit is coming,” Jagr laughed.