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Hertl's Return A Welcomed Addition To Locker Room

by Missy Zielinski /

Whether it's his versatility between center and wing, his contributions on the scoresheet or his infectious attitude and smile, forward Tomas Hertl is vastly important in the landscape of the San Jose Sharks.

"He's a tremendously good hockey player," linemate Joel Ward said. "He can play right wing, center, left wing, he can play on the power play, he can play on the penalty kill. I've never seen him at goalie, but I'm pretty sure he'd be good at that too."

His recent return has been no different - quickly making an impression on the Sharks locker room.

Including that iconic grin -

"I think he's probably smiling right now as we speak," Ward joked.

Yet with every return from injury, there are always some stumbling blocks along the road. This is especially true for Hertl, who has missed time in three of the past four seasons for separate knee ailments.

Less than 20 games into the regular season, Hertl found himself on injured reserve again. Not a first-timer to the rehabilitation process, he couldn't help but feel isolated from the rest of the team.

"Rehab can get a little boring," he said. "The last two months I was here, I skated and conditioned after the guy's practiced, just me - no goalie, shooting on an empty net."

It also meant days jam-packed with doctor appointments, rigorous skating sessions and workouts.

"They were long days," Hertl said. "I had to do more stuff with skating - going blue line to blue line, then red line to red line - and all over the ice.

"I was sleeping almost every day after I came home because I was so tired."

While the process is more challenging than a typical practice, and at times stagnant, Hertl knew the importance of taking the necessary steps in rehab. That same attitude has shown how his mental toughness has developed.

"If you're injured and coming back, it's nothing like a game," he said. "You need to condition to get better."

That, coupled with his best friend Tommy Wingels being traded to the Ottawa Senators during his first road trip back with the team, has also played a part in the 23-year-old's maturity.

"You never know what can happen," Hertl said. "But that helps me enjoy the game more; you never know how long you will play hockey."

Now that Hertl's focus has returned to the day-to-day of the Sharks, the hard work doesn't stop any time soon. Adding to the pressure of getting back to speed with the game itself, he must also be ready to play both center and wing depending on the situation.

On February 11, forward Logan Couture was a late scratch from the Sharks roster versus the Philadelphia Flyers. Hertl was swapped from top line-wing to third line center between Ward and Timo Meier.

Hertl had a 63.6% success rate from the faceoff circle (won seven of 11 faceoffs) in nearly 19 minutes of total ice time that evening.

"They were good, probably our best line," Head Coach Peter DeBoer said after the game. "A lot of zone time, three big, heavy guys…hopefully they can build on that."

Since taking over the center position, Hertl has won 62% of his faceoffs, leading the team in the category during that span.

"Our team is better with him at center," DeBoer said. "I like him anywhere you put him - I like him on the wing, I like him at center, but we're a better team with him there."

"It's a feather in his cap," Assistant Coach Bob Bougner added. "Not a lot of guys can do that. It shows his hockey intelligence…That's going to help us come time for the playoffs."

That ability to adapt and influence any situation he is thrown into has made him a vital part of the Sharks roster and in turn benefits whomever he plays with.

"It's pretty rare to see a guy who can do it all at a high level and he's one of the few that can, so it's good fortune for me to get a chance to play with him and hopefully I can cash in on some opportunities with him," Ward said.

No matter what position he plays or how many tough hurdles life seems to throw at the young Sharks forward, Hertl continues to push full steam ahead.

"It's a great feeling to be back," he said. "Just enjoying every moment on the ice all the time and playing in front of the fans."

And despite the challenges he's faced, his positivity and fun-loving attitude never seem to waver.

"He has a permanent smile on him," says Ward. "His energy is definitely contagious, he brings a lot of joy, a lot of passion, a lot of excitement to the guys and you can just tell he's having fun every day."

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