Tomas Hertl’s first season under Peter DeBoer began in a position the San Jose Sharks envisioned when they drafted the Czech forward in 2012: centering his own line.
Through the early part of the season, Hertl manned the middle in his drafted position, centering the third line to start the year, and the second as Logan Couture missed significant time thanks to injuries. But, near the midpoint of the season, Pete DeBoer moved Hertl to the wing on the top line alongside Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton.
The move paid remarkable dividends for the Sharks, as Hertl evoked memories of the torrid stretch in which he began his career. In the final 43 games of the season, Hertl scored 17 of his 21 goals and dished 14 of his 25 assists. The switch rejuvenated Hertl, as well as the rest of the Sharks down the stretch, as San Jose returned to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
With Hertl in tow, the top line continued to dominate in the postseason, leading the Sharks to their first ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. Hertl’s importance to the team was made especially clear against the Penguins, as the Sharks struggled to muster any offense in his absence against the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
Hertl’s success alongside Thornton and Pavelski presents a conundrum for the Sharks. Does he continue to play as a winger, where he’s had his most offensive success? Or, does the team move him to center full time, hoping that Hertl can produce at the same rate?
We may not know the answer until training camp. But regardless of what position he plays next season, if he replicates his production from this season?
That’s something that will give Sharks fans plenty of reason to smile.
2015-16 Sharks 5v5 Forward Usage Chart (via Corsica Hockey):
ZSR: Zone Start Ratio; The percentage of non-neutral zone starts that are offensive zone starts (OZS/(OZS + DZS))
TOI.QoT: Time On Ice Quality of Teammates; The weighted average TOI% of a player’s teammates
Rel.CF%: Individual corsi-for percentage subtracted by the team’s overall corsi-for percentage.
Tomas Hertl Hero Chart (via Own The Puck):
No play from this season is more indicative of Thornton and Hertl’s chemistry together than this wonder goal. Thornton’s pass is one that defies explanation, while Hertl has the presence of mind to keep his stick on the ice in case Thornton’s pass reaches him. The Sharks may want to move Hertl to center, in part to prepare for Thornton’s eventual decline and departure, but goals like this make prolonging that decision much more appealing.