SAN JOSE -- Tomas Hertl's rookie season with the San Jose Sharks was packed with meteoric highs and devastating lows, each sudden change in elevation a valuable learning experience.
Hertl grabbed the national spotlight in his third NHL game when he scored four goals against the New York Rangers on Oct. 8, 2013 at SAP Center. He capped the performance with a between-the-legs, top-shelf goal.
Center - SJS
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 25
SOG: 98 | +/-: 11
Two months later, Hertl's Calder Trophy dreams came to an end when he damaged two ligaments in his right knee Dec. 19 in a collision with Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown. Hertl returned for the final two regular-season games and seven games in the Sharks' loss to the Kings in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We found out a lot about Tomas when things were going good, but we also found out a lot of things about him when things weren't so good," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Wednesday during development camp. "His commitment to his rehab and to getting back into the lineup was exceptional, his want to play with his teammates in the playoffs. He showed us a lot of real positives through the bad times as much as through the good times last year."
Now a year older and wiser, Hertl, 20, is preparing for his second NHL season.
"I was up high with those four goals and then it was lower because of injury," Hertl said. "I was working hard to get back. I learned all season and it's going to help me."
Hert was on the ice for the first two days of development camp but sat out practice and the scrimmage Wednesday because of soreness in his right knee.
"It's not serious," Hertl said, flashing his ever-present smile. "A long time [with] no skating. My last time skating was the World Championship (in May). It's just a little bit sore. Just for safety."
Hertl played for the Czech Republic at the IIHF World Championship in Belarus and scored three goals skating on a line with Jaromir Jagr, his hockey idol. It was the latest instance when Hertl showed his knack for putting the puck in the net. He had 15 goals and 10 assists in 37 regular-season NHL games and two goals and three assists in the playoffs.
The Sharks have made it clear they're in a rebuilding mode and want their talented young players, including Hertl, to play bigger roles and take on more responsibility.
"I think he's going to have a fantastic year," said Sharks forward Matt Nieto, who is entering his second NHL season. "I think in a way last year was probably a good learning experience for him, being able to battle adversity and ending up being able to play in the playoffs. I know he worked really hard in rehab. He's got a really good work ethic, and we all know his skill and talent level. I think he's going to pick up right where he left off and be a big part of the team."
Hertl sounded anything but satisfied or overconfident at camp. He said he needs to "play good" this season to avoid getting sent to Worcester of the American Hockey League.
"I'm still learning," said Hertl, the No. 17 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. "Last year was my first NHL year. I'm still learning because here there are so many very, very good players. It's the best. It's the NHL. I hope it's all OK and I stay here all the time."
Hertl will return soon to his home in the Czech Republic and continue working out there before returning to San Jose in late August.
"I need to practice, get stronger in my whole body and stronger in my knee," Hertl said.
McLellan has high expectations for Hertl this season but knows there's no guarantee he won't regress.
"There's the second-year player that gets it and graduates and moves on, and then there's some second-year players that allow themselves to coast a little bit, slip, maybe they don't work as hard," McLellan said. "I think Tomas is that first guy, but he's got a summer ahead of him where he's got to continue to work and make sure he's in NHL condition, in NHL strength.
"No one questions his skill level, and if he does those things he'll set himself up well for a great season. If he doesn't, he's going to play catch-up. He knows that. He's been told that and I certainly believe he's the type that will take advantage of his summer."