This season, Tomas Hertl demonstrated he’s ready to play center full-time. The 23-year-old Czech forward began the season on Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski’s wing, reuniting the league’s most dominant line from 2015-16.
But shortly after returning to the lineup from injury, Hertl moved to center practically full-time for the season’s final two months, and was given more responsibility in the process. Hertl averaged 17:13 in ice time, the most of his career by 1:15.
Even with more responsibility, Hertl remained one of the team’s best drivers of puck possession, finishing third among players who played a minimum of 50 minutes in relative CF% (4.64%) and second in relative FF% (4.66%).
When Logan Couture and Joe Thornton went down to injury in a span of eight days, Hertl was thrust into a default first line center role, and continued to succeed. He largely contained Connor McDavid in the Sharks’ final regular season matchup with the Oilers, and performed well against the 2015 first overall pick when head coach Pete DeBoer matched the two up in the postseason.
Yet even as Hertl took noticeable steps forward, injuries continued to hamper him. Hertl missed over two months after undergoing surgery for his third right knee injury in two years, and finished the year with a broken foot.
When healthy, Hertl has proven he’s ready to not only play center full time, but for the greater responsibilities that come alongside a role in the top six. Whether or not he’ll ever be healthy enough to do so remains to be seen.
2016-17 Sharks 5v5 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 Rolling 25-game score, zone, and venue-adjusted average CF% (via Corsica Hockey)
Tomas Hertl Hero Chart
Hertl matched his career high with four game-winning goals this regular season, but none were prettier than this one against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Patrick Marleau did much of the hard work, drawing three Toronto defenders to the boards, but Frederik Andersen didn’t leave much space for Hertl’s short side snipe.
Even with two seasons shortened to injury, Hertl’s scored at least 10 goals in each of his four seasons in the league. That goal-scoring ability is going to become increasingly focal to the Sharks’ offensive attack as Hertl assumes a bigger role with the team.
What comes next?
Hertl enters the final season of a two-year, $6 million deal that he signed in 2014. He’ll still be a restricted free agent at the conclusion of the deal, but his deal expires at the same time as Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are set to become unrestricted free agents.
Even with his injuries, Hertl is likely due for a pretty significant raise. San Jose should have plenty of space to re-sign him, but his contract will need to be considered in the Sharks’ calculus when determining if they re-sign Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
With or without Thornton, who’s coming off a significant knee injury, Hertl could very well center one of the Sharks’ top two lines next year. As long as he’s healthy and continues to make strides in his game, it’s a move the Sharks should have no problem making.