Tomas Hertl’s memorable start to his NHL career came alongside a former Hart Trophy winner and a future Norris Trophy winner.
The Czech forward’s first Sharks linemates were Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, who then-San Jose coach Todd McLellan moved up from defense during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Hertl scored seven goals in his first five games, including a historic four-goal performance in his third.
Playing with Thornton and Burns allowed Hertl to debut in unforgettable fashion.
"Actually, it was the best line you could imagine: It was [Burnzie] and [Jumbo],” Hertl told ESPN’s Greg Wyshnski in a piece about past and present NHL players’ first linemates. “So it was actually a really big line, really fun line, because we were all over 6-[foot-]2 and 220, so it was a big and fun line. [Burnzie] was still playing forward.
“For me, or like anybody who started with Jumbo in his prime, it was really fun. Both these guys helped me a lot during my NHL career.”
The trio found instant chemistry during the 2013-14 season. Burns, Hertl and Thornton simply dominated opponents at even strength in just under 218 minutes together. They controlled, according to Natural Stat Trick:
- 62.82 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts
- 67.78 percent of the 5-on-5 expected goals
- 70.33 percent of the 5-on-5 scoring chances
- 73.75 percent of the 5-on-5 high-danger chances
Their time together was largely short-lived. Hertl underwent right knee surgery just 37 games into his NHL career, while Burns missed about a month early that season. McLellan didn’t immediately reunite the group when Hertl was healthy, instead keeping Joe Pavelski with Thornton and Burns.
Hertl, Burns and Thornton briefly reunited during the Sharks’ first-round Stanley Cup playoffs loss to the rival Los Angeles Kings, but the line didn’t score a 5-on-5 goal in that series as San Jose blew a three-games-to-none lead. They still generated a high share of quality chances, yet goals did not follow and the three never really got another look together upfront.
Burns moved back to the blue line the following season, and it paid off with a Norris win in 2017 and two other top-three finishes in 2016 (third) and 2019 (second). Hertl and Thornton have played with a number of different linemates, including each other, since then.
It’s hard to envision a true reunion on a line whenever the NHL resumes play following the coronavirus pandemic, considering Burns’ position change and Thornton’s now playing in a bottom-six role. The chemistry they found with Hertl in his rookie season was special, though, and something that clearly has stuck with him ever since.