SAN JOSE – Missing the World Cup of Hockey due to the aftereffects of a right knee injury was disappointing for Tomas Hertl, who didn’t get a chance to represent his home country of the Czech Republic in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, either.
But the good news, at least from a Sharks perspective, is that the 22-year-old was a full participant in practice on the first day of training camp on Friday. He says he’s fully recovered from a hit by Pittsburgh’s Patric Hornqvist late in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final last June that ended his season.
“I feel really good and I’m ready for the season,” Hertl said. “Nothing the past two or three weeks [bothers] me. I can turn, I can hit. I can do whatever. I think it’s ready. I have [no] problem lately.”
Hertl indicated the injury was more serious than just a sprained MCL, but confirmed that he didn’t need surgery. Considering his young age, and that it’s the same knee that he tore in his rookie year forcing him to miss nearly four months, playing in the World Cup just didn’t make sense for a player whose NHL career is still just getting started.
“I love to play for my country. But, [in] talking with [the] Sharks, it’s a better decision because I’m just 22,” said Hertl, who signed a two-year, $6 million contract extension in the offseason. “Stay ready for season, because here it’s [an] important season. Here we play 82 games, not just [a two-week] tournament. I want to be helping my teammates.”
Coach Pete DeBoer said: "He looks really good right now, and we’ll just monitor him day-to-day."
Hertl’s role in what will be his fourth NHL season will be something to track throughout camp. He played center in the first half of last year, partly due to Logan Couture missing significant time with a pair of injuries. The results were so-so at best, as he had just 15 points (4g, 11a) in 37 games.
When he was bumped up to the top line left wing in January, Hertl – and the team – took off. He posted 17 goals and 31 points over the final 43 games on what was arguably the best line in hockey in the second half of the year. He added another 11 points (5g, 6a) in 20 playoff games before getting hurt.
On Friday, Hertl skated between Nikolay Goldobin and Joel Ward. The Sharks’ top two centers, Couture and Joe Thornton, remain in Toronto as they compete for Team Canada, which has a semifinal matchup with Russia on Saturday.
Perhaps Hertl will stay in the middle when those two return. Or, he could return to his old place alongside Thornton and Pavelski. DeBoer will surely experiment with a number of looks in the preseason, which starts on Tuesday with a home game against Vancouver.
"I like the fact that he can play center," DeBoer said. "I want to keep him active at the center position. It’s very hard to find six-foot-three, 220-pound centers. Everybody is looking for them. We have him and [Patrick] Marleau, both big guys playing there right now in camp, and we’ll adjust as we go."
Hertl said: “I’m ready for both. If I play center, wing, during the season maybe changing. … I’m just ready to help the team on center or wing.”