Jack Han thinks that Tomas Hertl will age better as a player than Timo Meier.
“The Sharks made the right decision to sign Hertl long-term because he’s a player whose game should age relatively well. And I would say, should age better than Timo Meier, for instance,” Han told San Jose Hockey Now. “Because Timo Meier is a player who I think sees the game more north-south, has less nuance in his game, and is more reliant on his speed. So I think they made they made a good decision there [to trade Meier].”
Suffice to say, despite Hertl’s self-admitted “up and down” campaign, the hockey tactics and player development guru is in his corner.
With all that in mind, I spoke with Han recently about his new Hockey Tactics 2023 book, and he shared great insights about how Erik Karlsson creates organizational value, Hertl, and how Jacob Peterson has caught his eye.
Han is perhaps best known for his work in analytics, player development, scouting, and coaching in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. Currently, he’s a coaching consultant for ZSC Lions, Connecticut Whale, and high-level players across the world.
It was such a fascinating 35-minute conversation, I’m going to release it in three parts.
I’ve already put out Part 1, where Han talks about how Karlsson can actually accelerate the San Jose Sharks’ rebuild.
Today is Hertl’s turn: Han speaks at length about the nuance in Hertl’s game, and how he can mature into a Joe Pavelski or Joe Thornton-like buffer for younger linemates.
Before you start, I urge you to check out Han’s video on the detail in Hertl’s game, and how that helped Karlsson this season:
New Video Breakdown:
I don't blame you if you seldom watch the San Jose Sharks.
However, the team is a source of quality "teaching clips" for coaches looking to implement a new-school transition defense.https://t.co/fpqgNVexxq
— Jack Han (@JhanHky) April 4, 2023
Also, make sure to purchase Han’s Hockey Tactics 2023, which details the systems of all 32 NHL teams, including the San Jose Sharks. In honor of William Han-Grenier, born just last week — congrats Jack and Steph! — use code “willy” at checkout to get $8 off any of Jack’s ebooks.
Han, on why he’s optimistic about Tomas Hertl playing well into his 30’s and what makes him so valuable to a rebuilding team:
He’s impressed me in that I think his game is going to age pretty well as long as he stays healthy and motivated.
He’s signed for a lot of money for a long time, but I really do see him becoming more like a Joe Pavelski-type of player in his 30’s, even mid-to-late 30s. Already, we’re seeing [in Hockey Tactics 2023] how he’s helped Karlsson by covering for him defensively and being available in the defensive zone.
Also offensively, I’m gonna do a video breakdown on that, but he’s so good at using his body to protect the puck and he’s really savvy at making those little plays and getting to the net and good timing. A lot of the Joe Pavelski things.
For me, if you’re going through a rebuild, you need some constants. You need some core players sticking around. For the Kings, it’s [Anze] Kopitar and [Drew] Doughty. They’re still big players for them and I think Hertl can be that.
Even if we’re talking about three-to-five years down the road.
By doing the things that he’s really good at, he’s able to play with an Eklund or even players that aren’t on the Sharks yet. Because you can plug in a younger player with size, speed, and skill, who’s a bit less polished, and Hertl is going to do the dirty work and would really be a good complement. Like Pavelski is for Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson. I don’t think Hintz or Robertson would be the player they are today without playing alongside and learning from Pavelski.
That’s what I’m [likely] seeing from Hertl in the next couple of years. We’ve got to find him some good wingers who are gonna develop. He’s the kind of guy who’s really valuable to have if you’re looking to turn this thing around in the next three-five years.
Han, on what stands out about Hertl’s game to him:
I see a lot of understanding for how to position the puck and how to position his body to extend plays.
The biggest challenge for young offensive players going up is you’re used to being the top scorer on your team or in your league, and you’re used to skating by people, or shooting pucks through goalies. Whereas once you hit the NHL, the idea is not only do you want to take chances and get the puck to the net when it’s there, but when the play is not there, you have to find ways to change the direction, cut back, [and] extend the play so you can get your teammates involved.
Hertl, if you remember earlier this season, Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc were his two most common wingers. Those players, they have some warts in their games in terms of holding on to the puck, or helping their teammates, or covering defensively. But Hertl does such a good job of papering over that. Labanc could use his shot because he’s getting pucks in places where he likes to get them. Meier is able to attack off the rush, take chances offensively, have that poacher’s mentality to score off the rush.
Those qualities, you can find in younger players, especially when you have like an early pick, like a first or second-round pick. Generally speaking, when you go for a forward, those are the kinds of offensive skill-sets that you can get [high] from the Draft. But it’s more difficult to develop that nuance, unless you have those players already.
For me, Hertl’s evolved his game because early in his career, when he was playing with Joe Thornton, Thornton was that guy. Whereas Hertl was the guy that was on the wing, taking shots, taking chances, carrying the puck yourself. And now, Hertl’s mellowed into sort of a Pavelski or a Thornton, who’s maybe a little bit less speedy, and not going to beat you one-on-one as often, but is able to create plays for teammates.
Han, on how difficult the San Jose Sharks’ losing might be on Hertl:
It’s difficult spot for a player to be in. Having been on really good teams, and now the team is rebuilding, but you’re sticking around long-term.
Like you look at Doughty in LA, for example. He had a couple of years where his stats really fell off. And when you watched him play, he clearly wasn’t as engaged and as competitive as deep into a playoff run when he had a chance to change the game whenever he got on the ice.
I see [Hertl’s] game evolving in the right direction, he’s got to keep at it, and he’s got to keep honing it. But I think he’s got the game to age really well as an NHL player. The thing for him is just to be patient, keep plugging away, and have faith that eventually he’s going to have a Roope Hintz or Jason Robertson or Miro Heiskanen playing around him. Then he’s going to be that difference-maker on a really good team again.
Once you’re an elite NHL’er, in your 30’s, you see a lot of those players fall off. Maybe it’s because of injury, maybe it’s because mentally they’re not as committed, but a lot of times, you just lose heart in doing the best that you absolutely can because you don’t really see it mattering. Especially, after you sign a big contract.
Han, on why he’s optimistic that Hertl’s game will age well even if his skating slows down:
He’s not slow, but naturally, once you hit your 30’s, a lot of that explosiveness or change of speed is not going to be there anymore. But for him, it’s holding onto the puck, protecting it, getting opponents on his back — as opposed to challenging them face to face — and finding short area passes to his linemates. So that they can take it to the net.
The way that he’s playing, it’s like a typical North American, two-way center. Think of it that way. Jonathan Toews in his prime, or Sidney Crosby, Hertl does a lot of that stuff.
Because he’s European, and maybe early in his career he had a certain reputation, doesn’t mean that he’s not good at those things right now. I think that’s what’s going to help him extend his career. I like the way he plays, and I think he’s going to be part of the solution for San Jose.
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