Since the start of the 2018-19 campaign, Sharks forward Tomas Hertl has played at an increasingly high level. Even with a couple of minor injuries in the early part of the season, the 25-year-old has, so far, put together a nice body of work ahead of the new year.
Coming out of the league-mandated holiday break, Hertl accomplished yet another feat: Successfully moving to the center position on a new line and continuing to help San Jose find ways to win games.
"He's still a guy you can put anywhere and he's going to have an impact on the game," Sharks' head coach Peter DeBoer told the media after defeating the Edmonton Oilers 7-4 on Saturday – a game where Hertl and his new linemates, Evander Kane and Joonas Donskoi, led the charge.
With the stretch of tough competition the Sharks started facing around the holiday break, it would be pretty daring for a coach to mix up the forward lines too much. But DeBoer took a chance and moved Hertl off the Logan Couture-centered line with Timo Meier, which had been one of the most productive lines through the first few months of the season.
"You're always reluctant to break up guys who have played really well together," DeBoer admitted. "I think we had a couple of games though where not a lot was clicking, and then when we split them up it started to click. So that made (the decision) easier."
Not surprisingly, Hertl told the press he's open to being moved wherever he needs to in order to help the team out. "Pete said, ‘Let's try you out here, I need you at center' and I said, ‘For sure, wherever you need me,'" Hertl said after Saturday's game.
The move didn't immediately pay dividends when San Jose hosted the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday evening. But when the Sharks faced off with the Oilers a few days later, the Kane-Hertl-Donskoi combo became one of the driving forces behind San Jose's victory.
Just 16 seconds after Edmonton opened up scoring in the first period, it was Hertl's line that drove up the ice and Donskoi who found the back of the net to tie things up 1-1. Before the first period expired, Hertl scored the go-ahead goal and the Sharks never looked back.
"Their line kind of carried us through that first period and gave us the lead there when we fell behind," Logan Couture said after Saturday's game. "They played well."
"Our first period, we scored a goal, wish we'd scored a couple more," Hertl said. "I think we got really good."
Hertl's recent success at the center position also gives the Sharks a better chance at competing against the big guns coming up on their schedule.
Center depth is something San Jose has worked tirelessly to beef up in the first half of the season. With contests against the Calgary Flames on New Year's Eve and the Tampa Bay Lightning after the start of the year, the Sharks need to be as strong down the middle as possible. Having a player like Hertl at pivot – especially with some of the big power moves he's displayed on the ice recently – gives the team a better chance of winning.
"There's no doubt the center ice position, especially with the games we've got coming up here and some of the teams we're playing, we've got to have some depth through those spots," DeBoer said.
Of course – as we've discussed more than once through the first half of the season – this doesn't mean these lines are chiseled in stone. There will always come a time that DeBoer will rearrange the forward attack again, and maybe even reunite the Hertl-Couture-Meier line.
For the time being, however, Hertl is finding success as the third-line center.
"Maybe during the season I'll come back with (Couture)," Hertl said after Saturday's win. "But right now I'm a center and I'm happy for our line because I think we had a pretty strong game tonight."