Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing series in which Kevin Kurz will highlight a different Sharks player every day leading up to the start of training camp.
Name/Position: Tomas Hertl, F
2015-16 cap hit/contract: $925,000, pending RFA
2014-15 year in review: It’s been a tough road for Tomas Hertl ever since he tore up his knee in December 2013, and that includes the majority of last season. The second-year forward posted 13 goals and 31 points while appearing in all 82 games, anguishing through prolonged stretches of offensive ineffectiveness.
In Hertl’s defense, he tweaked his knee during last year’s World Championships thereby throwing off his offseason training. When the 2014-15 season began and he wasn’t doing much, he admitted that his confidence waned. Rather than send him to the minors to regain that confidence, though, the Sharks chose to maintain their risky strategy of keeping their young players on the roster, including the affable Czech native. Whether that will turn out to be the right call or badly backfire has yet to be determined.
2015-16 outlook: Hertl will enter the third year of his entry level deal already at a bit of a crossroads in his career. Is he the dynamic goal scorer that burst onto the scene in the first three months of his rookie year, or does he figure to settle in as a winger that scores 15-20 or so goals a year?
Or, is Hertl better off as a centerman rather than a wing? There is evidence that the way Todd McLellan deployed Hertl last year did not sit very well in the general manager’s office. Doug Wilson said at the trade deadline that part of the reason James Sheppard was dealt was to get Hertl in the middle, but that never materialized, as Hertl spent all but a handful of games at left wing. Considering Chris Tierney’s late season surge, it’s difficult to envision Hertl as anything but a left wing headed into training camp.
There is reason to believe Hertl will rebound this year, considering what he went through last offseason. McLellan was critical of Hertl’s fitness level on more than one occasion, and considering his struggles, Hertl has probably realized he has to work a little harder in the summertime to have success at the NHL level.
If he struggles out of the gate again, though, Hertl could benefit from playing a few games with the AHL Barracuda, as he’s still waiver exempt. The fact that he was on the roster for the entirety of last season (except for a two-game stint in Worcester over the All-Star break), after admitting he wasn’t very confident, is, frankly, baffling. If Hertl's development stagnates, the front office will have some questions to answer.
Conversely, if Hertl can become the young force that he’s supposed to become, it would be a huge lift to a team that didn’t have enough offense up and down its lineup last season.