Since the Christmas break Hertl has been playing center on the 3rd line. It’s the position he was always meant to play, but he has struggled there in the past. It appears that all he needed was a bit of time to mature, because now he is arguably the best center on the team. While Hertl is 4th in Goals and 6th in overall points for the team, it is the other parts of his game that really set him apart.
Hertl’s strength a center comes from the fact that he’s a complete player. After Eric Karlsson, he’s probably the best skater on the team. This is evident on both sides of the ice, whether you are watching him skate around 3 defenders to drive to the goal, or skate back to help with and odd man rush. His speed combined with his size and physicality make him one of the best forwards to have in the defensive zone.
He isn’t larger than the other centers on the team, but he uses his size better. In the offensive zone he’s able to battle hard for pucks in the corners, and screen in front of the goalie giving his line mates better opportunities to score. He’s also able to take a hit and retain possession of the puck while driving through the neutral zone. When on defense, he gets his body between shooters and the net, and to knock players off the puck, and is ranked 6th on the team for takeaways.
Perhaps the biggest point in favor of him being the best center is the play of his line mates since he took over the position. Kane is starting to look like he’s worth the 7 Million a year he’s being paid, which seemed questionable just a couple months ago. Donskoi had only 1 goal in the 16 games before the break and has 7 since. Since Hertl took the helm, this has become the best line on the team. They combine the physical and defensive skills of a traditional 3rd line with the scoring ability of a 1st line. The sharks have scored 27 even strength goals in the 6 games before Ottawa’s visit, and 15 of those have come from the 3rd line.
It remains to be seen if Hertl can keep up this level of play for the rest of the season, but right now he looks like the best Center on the team, and that’s good for the team’s future.