Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing series in which Sharks insider Kevin Kurz will highlight a different Sharks player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp.
Name/Position: Tomas Hertl, LW/C
Salary cap hit: $3 million, signed through 2017-18
2015-16 year in review: Much like a handful of his teammates, Tomas Hertl didn’t really find his consistency until the second half of the season when Pete DeBoer moved him up to the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. On January 9, Hertl entered a game against the Maple Leafs with just four goals and 15 points in 37 games. Over the remaining 43 games on the top line, Hertl totaled 17 goals and 31 points on what was arguably the best line in the NHL.
Hertl continued to produce in the playoffs with six goals and five assists for 11 points in 20 games. He suffered a right knee injury late in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, though, and was sorely missed by the Sharks in their series loss to the Penguins. Hertl had been the Sharks' best forward to that point in the series.
The Czech native inked a two-year, $6 million contract extension in the offseason.
2016-17 outlook: One of the bigger lineup decisions on DeBoer’s plate will be where to line up Hertl on opening night. Does he break up his dominant top line and move Hertl back to center, or is it time for Hertl to get another chance as the third line center? Both DeBoer and general manager Doug Wilson have made it abundantly clear that they expect Hertl to be a center at some point in his career, but the production just hasn’t there in that position for the former first round pick, including the first half of last season (although he did post some strong possession numbers while in that spot).
Hertl played probably the best hockey of his career in the second half and into the postseason, and he’s not even 23 years old yet. The guess here is that the Sharks hope a guy like Timo Meier makes the team out of camp and can play on the left side of the Thornton line, while Hertl centers the third line in place of an aging Patrick Marleau, who should go back to left wing.
If Hertl is ready to play center, and his 56.0 percent faceoff percentage last season is encouraging in that regard, it could give the Sharks an even better offensive attack than when they finished fourth in the league in regular season scoring in 2015-16. Wilson has stated that Hertl will be healthy for the start of camp, too, despite that right knee injury preventing him from playing for the Czech Republic in the World Cup of Hockey.