Hertl is only the second first-round pick made by the Sharks in the past five drafts. They traded their only other first-rounder, 2010 pick Charlie Coyle, to Minnesota during last year's draft with 2005 first-rounder Devin Setoguchi and a 2011 first-rounder for defenceman Brent Burns.
Hertl, 18, was rated as the fifth-best European skater in the draft by the NHL Central Scouting service. Hertl had 12 goals and 13 assists last season for Slavia Praha in the Czech league, along with a plus-9 rating and 22 penalty minutes. His coach at Slavia Praha was former NHL player Vladimir Ruzicka.
"He has the upside potential to be a centerman that you can use in all situations," Sharks scouting director Tim Burke said. "He will defend, he makes plays, he has long reach, he strips pucks, he's able to play low around the net. There are a lot of good qualities."
Hertl, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, also had three goals and two assists in six games at the World Junior Hockey Championships this year.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said he looked into trading up at one point and would have traded out of the 17th spot if Hertl had not been available.
"He's a versatile guy," Wilson said. "He's a big body guy who played very well in the World Juniors. He played against men. He can play all forward positions."
The Sharks expect him to remain in the Czech Republic next season, and Burke said he could be ready for the NHL the following year depending on his development and the team's needs.
This marked the first time since 2004 that the Sharks used their top pick on a European player. They drafted Lukas Kaspar of the Czech Republic in the first round that year.
The draft comes after a disappointing season for the Sharks, who were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by St. Louis after making it to the Western Conference finals the previous two seasons.
While Hertl won't be expected to contribute in the NHL for a few years, Wilson already made one move to bolster his team this off-season, acquiring the rights to defenceman Brad Stuart from Detroit for potential free agent Andrew Murray and a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2014.
San Jose is close to signing a three-year deal with Stuart that will prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1, That would clear the way for Wilson to deal another defenceman to help improve the depth at wing.
The Sharks still have five picks remaining on Saturday with one in each of the second, fifth and sixth rounds, and two in the seventh round.
Despite the lack of high picks in recent years, San Jose has had success drafting under Wilson's leadership with his picks playing in the third most games (3,829) in the NHL since his first draft in 2003, trailing only Montreal and Chicago.