SAN JOSE -- While growing up in the Czech Republic, San Jose Sharks rookie forward Tomas Hertl had a poster of his countryman and hockey idol Jaromir Jagr on his bedroom wall.
Hertl, who turned 20 on Nov. 12, played two games against Jagr in the Czech Extraliga last year during the NHL lockout. But he'll face the 41-year-old Jagr for the first time in the NHL on Saturday night when the Sharks face the New Jersey Devils.
"I'm very excited," Hertl said after the Sharks morning skate at SAP Center. "He's a very, very strong guy."
Hertl said he's never talked to Jagr, but Jagr is well aware of the rookie after facing him twice during the lockout and following his fast start in the NHL.
"He's a good player, no question about it, for the age he is," Jagr said of Hertl, who has a team-high 12 goals. "There's a lot of guys in Europe who've got a lot of talent, but when they come here in the U.S. they might have a tough time because they don't know how to play on the boards and in the corners. That's not his problem. He was playing that kind of style in Europe. You knew it was just a matter of time of when he was going to be good in the NHL. Some guys they have a problem. They come in the League, the rink is smaller. And his advantage is he was playing at the arena where there was smaller ice. He didn't have to get used to it. That's the only arena [in the Czech Republic] that has small ice. They did it for the NHL games and they kind of liked it so they kept it."
While growing up, Hertl would watch highlights on television of Jagr's NHL exploits and an occasional game during the playoffs. He emulated Jagr's style of play, using his big body to protect the puck and also to get to the net.