Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing series in which Insider Kevin Kurz will highlight a different Sharks player every day leading up to the start of NHL training camp.
Name/Position: Tomas Hertl, left wing/center
Contract status: Signed through 2015-16 ($925,000 cap hit)
2013-14 year in review: Teenage rookie Tomas Hertl’s arrival was as immediate as it was exciting, and even though the forward’s season was marred by a serious right knee injury, Hertl quickly became a fan favorite with his skills on the ice combined with his endearing personality.
He finished with 15 goals and 25 points in 37 regular season games, and would have been a contender for the Calder Trophy had he remained healthy. At the time of his unfortunate collision with the Kings’ Dustin Brown on Dec. 19, Hertl led all NHL rookies in goals and points, including seven goals in his first five career games.
His four-goal performance against New York on Oct. 8, highlighted by a between-the-legs breakaway, tied a franchise record for goals in a game (Owen Nolan, 1995). In the playoffs, Hertl posted two goals and three assists against Los Angeles.
2014-15 outlook: Although he returned late in the regular season and played in all seven games in the playoffs, Hertl’s knee “wasn’t all the way back,” general manager Doug Wilson admitted after the season. There was further concern in the offseason when Hertl was unable to take part in a rookie scrimmage in July after tweaking the same knee in practice. Is there reason to be nervous about his health headed into training camp?
If he’s fully healthy, and every indication so far is that he will be, Hertl will undoubtedly be a part of the Sharks’ top six. The most likely place for him to start the season will once again be on Joe Thornton’s left side, but the long-term plan for the 20-year-old is to make him an NHL center. Hertl played center for his native Czech Republic in the World Championships this past spring and had some success there with six points in nine games. His transition to that position could come sooner than later, perhaps even this year depending on what roster moves are made.
Hertl – who could easily be a 30-goal scorer, especially if he remains on a line with Thornton – also brings salary cap hit of less than $1 million for the next two seasons, a luxury for Wilson, who has an abundance of cap space at the moment.
The hope and expectation now for Hertl will be that he continues to develop into a star. Considering his big frame, the way he can protect the puck, his ability to finish and his desire to excel, there’s no reason it can’t happen.