Why Tomas Hertl won't forget playing with Joe Thornton, Brent Burns

Why Tomas Hertl won't forget playing with Joe Thornton, Brent Burns

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.

[RELATED: NHL to postpone 2020 draft, combine and awards due to virus]

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.

Sharks' Erik Karlsson adjusting well to new fatherhood amid NHL hiatus

Sharks' Erik Karlsson adjusting well to new fatherhood amid NHL hiatus

The last six months have been hectic for Sharks star Erik Karlsson.
It's not just the uphill hockey season, and thumb surgery, and the suspension of all sports in general. But it's also becoming a dad, and getting really good at … diapers.
“I can’t say that I’m a pro at it,” Karlsson joked. “Although I do change the diapers at night in the complete dark, and that can be a little tricky at times.”
Erik missed the first Sharks game of the season to be with his wife, Melinda, for the birth of their daughter, Harlow Rain. Now that hockey sits idle, the defenseman is substituting line changes with teammates for diaper changes with his daughter.
“I’m a little bit more of a risk-taker,” Karlsson said about his strategy. “I do believe if the diaper is full and she’s done, then she’s done.”
He also reaffirmed what every parent quickly learns: "No. 1s" are much easier to handle than "No. 2s."
“It depends what type of No. 2, too,” Karlsson said. “Some are easier than others.”
Fatherhood of six months already has made Karlsson realize he’s changed.
“My patience, especially is a lot better, and the uncertainty of things,” Karlsson shared. “Not being able to plan as much ahead as you could before.”
Fortunately, Karlsson's left thumb has recovered well since the injury and required surgery in mid-February. Meaning he’s not limited in dad duties this summer.
“That’s been great. It was one of the things I didn’t really worry about to begin with, and I’m definitely not worried about it right now,” Karlsson explained. “If the season would have been on, I probably could have played a couple weeks ago.”

[RELATED: Bettman says NHL examining all options for restart]
This means the Norris Trophy winner should have no problem defending 2-on-1s next season, just like he’s defending “twos” and “ones” this summer.
“At first, it made you gag sometimes," Karlsson said, "and now it doesn’t even faze me really.”

Sharks' Mario Ferraro reveals lesson learned in whirlwind rookie year

Sharks' Mario Ferraro reveals lesson learned in whirlwind rookie year

Mario Ferraro has surpassed the wildest of expectations in his rookie season with the Sharks, and it hasn't exactly been an uneventful one.

Since making the jump straight from college to the pros, the 21-year-old defenseman has witnessed a mid-season coaching change, the acquisition and eventual trading of a franchise legend, a seemingly endless string of serious injuries to roster cornerstones and -- oh yeah -- an indefinite pause of the NHL season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Not exactly your average rookie year.

Technically, Ferraro's rookie season hasn't come to an end -- at least not yet. Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday that there currently is too much uncertainty for the league to be able to determine when the season might be able to resume, though he hopes to "know more by the end of April." In any case, even if San Jose was able to play out its remaining games, there are only 12 left. Considering the Sharks fell to the absolute bottom of the NHL standings right before the season was paused, an additional playoff run is entirely out of the question.

So, for all intents and purposes, we can't really consider Ferraro a rookie anymore. He has 61 career NHL games under his belt, so, really, that has been the case for a while.

Ferraro flew back to Toronto shortly before the Bay Area's shelter-in-place orders went into effect, and has been doing his best to stay in shape while living at his parents' house. In a recent discussion with NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil, he described an important lesson that was crucial to his development as a rookie.

"I think one small thing that's actually not small at all when you really look at it," Ferraro said, "is just preparation and that mentality of staying even-keel the whole year. What I mean by that is not getting too high on the highs or too low on the lows. You have so many games and so many important games that if you have a good game one night, you better forget about it because you gotta do the same thing the next night. Or, vice versa, if you play poorly, you really gotta forget about it and bounce back strong.

"And it's not just from game to game -- it's from shift to shift. You're playing in a league that has really fast players, strong players. You can get exposed, and it's going to happen. People are going to make mistakes. I'm a defenseman, so I feel like you're more bound to make mistakes ... they're more glaringly obvious. From a mental perspective, you really have to learn to just kind of say, OK, it happened. Move on. Let's get back to my game and play hard."

While Ferraro is correct that no player is exempt from making mistakes, he didn't have too many glaring errors throughout his first season in the NHL -- or at least, he did a good job covering them up. He earned the trust of the coaching staff and was rewarded with additional opportunities, which he proved capable of handling. Over the last eight games before the season was paused, Ferraro averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per night.

[RELATED: Leonard reunited with college roommate Ferraro on Sharks]

In terms of mentors on the team, Ferraro specifically mentioned fellow defenseman Brent Burns as someone who has been tremendously helpful to him. And like seemingly everyone else in that locker room, Ferraro is a big fan of Joe Thornton. But ultimately, it has been a team effort in supporting Ferraro throughout his rookie year. It takes a village, after all.

"Nobody's counted out on this team," Ferraro explained. "They're all great guys. They've all taught me a ton this year, and we're really close. It has been a good learning curve for me."

While we're all focused on flattening the curve, it has long been evident that -- as a rookie -- Ferraro's wasn't very steep.