Peter DeBoer has changed a lot of things since taking over as San Jose Sharks head coach, but one of the biggest changes has been his usage of Tomas Hertl. Through seven games, Hertl's underlying numbers aren't far off of his numbers from his sophomore slump a season ago. Those numbers are in a new position, a much less sheltered role than the previous season, and without the benefit of good luck, meaning Hertl could soon be poised to break out.
When Tomas Hertl smiled his way into Sharks fans' hearts two seasons ago, he did so as a winger, riding shotgun alongside Joe Thornton and Brent Burns. Things haven't really been the same for Hertl since a knee injury derailed his rookie season, as he produced two less points in his sophomore campaign in 38 more games than he played as a rookie.
Originally drafted as a center, Hertl has begun the 2015-16 season centering his own line. He originally centered the Sharks' third line, flanked by Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto, but he's been forced to slide into the second line center role due to Logan Couture's broken fibula. His start has been a bit underwhelming by traditional measures, but a look at his underlying numbers reveals that Hertl is acquitting himself pretty well, and could be due for more success on the scoresheet soon.
According to War-on-ice, Hertl's score-adjusted Corsi-For percentage is only slightly down from last season, but he's still driving play in much more difficult circumstances. He's starting nearly 15% more of his shifts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone, which is easily the highest of his career and third-highest among Sharks that have played at least 25 minutes, and in the top 60 of forwards league-wide. Despite the tougher zone starts, Hertl is still having a positive impact on the Sharks' possession, as he's and without luck on his side.
Hertl's also been pretty unlucky this season. His shooting percentage is at a career low 5.9%, and his PDO, or the sum of the Sharks' shooting percentage and save percentage when Hertl's on the ice, the third lowest on the team. It's pretty reasonable to expect Hertl's on-ice shooting percentage to increase, even as Martin Jones' save percentage at even strength decreases.
On the surface, it seems worrisome that Hertl's posting similar possession numbers to his down sophomore campaign, but a look at his underlying numbers reveals he's posting those numbers in a much more difficult role, and without luck on his side. Once his shooting percentage normalizes, Hertl's scoring output should more accurately reflect how he's playing, and fun will be always for Sharks fans.