New Hero Hertl Embodies Sharks Balanced Attack
SAN JOSE, California - When the NHL Trade Deadline approached last season, San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson began what he called an organizational "reset and refresh" in an effort to build a younger, faster and grittier team that plays an attacking north/south style.
Rookie forward Tomas Hertl, with an assist from some of his young teammates, has made Wilson's "reset and refresh" look more like an extreme hockey makeover.
In just three games, the 19-year-old Hertl already has scored six goals. No other Shark in franchise history has scored more than four goals in his first three NHL games.
Hertl scored two goals Saturday against the Phoenix Coyotes, his second game, then he had a history making, four-goal binge Tuesday in a 9-2 rout of the New York Rangers for the Sharks, who improved to 3-0-0 and have outscored their opponents 17-4.
Hertl tied Owen Nolan's franchise record for goals in a game, set Dec. 19, 1995, against Anaheim. He also became the youngest NHL player to score four goals in a game since Jimmy Carson of the Los Angeles Kings accomplished the feat on March 20, 1988, against Calgary at the age of 19 years, 254 days.
Hertl was 76 days older when he scored his four goals against the Rangers.
While Hertl was setting records for standing ovations, being showered with hats on the ice and hearing chants of "Hertl! Hertl! Hertl!," fellow rookie forward Matthew Nieto quietly was scoring his first NHL goal and earning his first two assists in the League.
“I’m really happy for Tomas, that’s a great accomplishment, but to get my first goal, I couldn’t be happier," Nieto said. "I thought the team played well again [Tuesday].”
Nieto, a 20-year-old native of the Southern California city of Long Beach, made the Sharks' season-opening roster just two years after being taken in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft. The Sharks fast-tracked Hertl to the NHL after taking him with the 17th pick in the 2012 draft out of the Czech Republic.
Hertl and Nieto combined for seven points against the Rangers and produced countless smiles on the bench.
"It was fun, it was exciting," Sharks center Joe Pavelski said. "Everyone on the bench had smiles, everyone was happy for them. It's great."
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said it's understandable that Hertl grabbed the spotlight Tuesday, but he said Nieto had "a great game" as well.
"He feels comfortable playing on that line, and he complements [Pavelski] and Tommy Wingels very well with his speed and his tenacity," McLellan said of Nieto. "He's on top of pucks a lot and obviously has a big of a nose for the net too."
Nieto was playing for Boston University until making his pro debut April 2 for Worcester of the American Hockey League. Now he's starting in the NHL on the Sharks' third line.
"It's awesome. It's an adjustment for sure," Nieto said. "You have to think fast and make the simple plays, but I couldn’t be happier to be here."
The Sharks nearly opened the season with three rookies on their roster, but sent center Freddie Hamilton, a 2010 fifth-round draft pick, to Worcester just before the season began. Hamilton most likely won't have to wait too long before he's on a flight to San Jose.
Wilson began making changes to his team's roster before the deadline last season, trading three veterans in exchange for draft picks, most of them in the loaded 2013 NHL Draft. He traded forward Ryane Clowe to the New York Rangers, forward Michal Handzus to the Chicago Blackhawks and defenseman Douglas Murray to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Sharks also made a major lineup change midway through last season, moving Brent Burns from defenseman to forward and putting him on a line with center Joe Thornton. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Burns remained at forward this season on the 6-4, 220-pound Thornton's line, which now includes the 6-2, 210-pound Hertl. There are few lines in the NHL with that combination of size, skill and strength.
Wilson landed forward Raffi Torres in a deadline trade last season with the Phoenix Coyotes, adding speed and toughness to his roster in a move that has yet to fully pay dividends. Torres currently is sidelined 3-5 months after surgery to repair an ACL injury sustained in the preseason.
Wilson used a second-round draft pick, part of his trade haul, to acquire former Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy, giving the Sharks a volume-shooter with speed to play on the second line with forward Patrick Marleau and center Logan Couture, a rising star in the League.
Then in two other offseason moves, Wilson signed Couture and Pavelski to five-year contract extensions, securing two key pieces in the Sharks' long-term plans.
Thornton, Marleau and Dan Boyle -- all in the final year of their contracts -- remain highly productive, but they no longer have to shoulder most of the offensive load and pressure.
After adding Hertl, Nieto and Kennedy to the returning trio of Couture, Pavelski and Burns, the Sharks have more than enough talent to share the scoring load. Fifteen Sharks had at least one point against the Rangers.
Hertl, of course, led the way with four points as he continued living a "dream" and filling up the net with pucks.
"I'm very happy," Hertl said. "My three games, I'm very happy."
So are the new-look Sharks.
Author: Eric Gilmore | NHL.com Correspondent