In the past few Hockey Doses, the messages have been pretty consistent: don’t panic, don’t overreact and don’t blow everything up. This time around, I’m going to focus on the second part of a key point I made on Tuesday:
Don’t blow up your foundation. Instead, focus on smaller tweaks.
Generally speaking, it’s best to take bigger risks in the “smaller tweaks” area earlier in the season. That’s because the waiver wire is far more robust with players people either a) don’t trust yet, b) haven’t caught on to or c) haven’t gotten around to adding. (Some might only check their leagues once a week, or less.)
As much as I’ve trumpeted the need to take high shooting percentage guys with a grain of salt, it’s also true that every now and then, a guy makes a legitimate breakthrough. Wouldn’t you rather drop a bit player who won’t really move the needle much either way for a guy with a higher ceiling and lower floor?
The higher-ceiling, lower-floor guy I’m talking about is San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl.
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Now, I’m not going to say that I predicted Hertl would have a jaw-dropping four-goal night, which included an absolutely mind-blowing finale. The most I can say is that I targeted him as a player to watch on Oct. 4.
This isn’t about half-hearted horn-tooting; instead, the point is that Hertl’s not quite as out-of-left-field as some might label him.
The reason why Hertl’s general success isn’t shocking is that he’s lining up with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns.
Thornton no longer ranks in the absolute uppercrust of NHL forwards, but he’s still really good. One would be foolish to overlook how much he’s helped other scorers, most notably including:
Jonathan Cheechoo: Peaked with 56 goals riding shotgun alongside Thornton in 2005-06, earning a Maurice Richard Trophy.
Glen Murray: Scored 111 goals in 236 games during his best years with Thornton in Boston from 2001-02 to 2003-04 versus 226 in the 773 other games in his career. (Basically going from a goal every two games versus a .3 goal-per-game average.)
Those are probably the two most dramatic differences, but the takeaway remains that Thornton is like a great QB who augments the abilities of WRs in ways that can be downright misleading.
The Sharks selected Hertl 17th overall in 2012, so it’s not like he’s some nobody.
-- He’s averaging less than 15 minutes per night with an unsustainable 46.2 shooting percentage.
-- Hertl didn’t dominate overseas (less than a point-per-game), so it’s easy to argue that his impressive run won’t last.
-- He’s also just 19.
-- The Sharks possess other talented forwards, but if he drops out of the top six, his outlook changes drastically. (Thornton!)
-- San Jose’s one of the few teams that has the stones to decide Hertl needs more time to develop outside of the NHL after nine games, especially if he doesn’t produce much after this amazing night.
Perhaps we need some other examples, then? Since 2005-06, 21 other players (18 active) have produced a four-goal game. The list includes some obvious stars such as Alex Ovechkin (twice) and Ilya Kovalchuk - some of which might have been breaking out - but the most interesting examples are:
-- Jussi Jokinen - four goals for Dallas, Nov. 16, 2007 (age: 24) - Hey, Jokinen had a hat trick last night, too! Jokinen’s career has been awfully interesting since that four-goal night, as he’s accomplished the goal of proving he’s more than just a shootout specialist, but he hasn’t quite been able to stick with a team in a comfortable way.
-- Lars Eller might be the most interesting parallel of them all. (Four goals, one assist for Montreal on January 4, 2012 at age 22).
Like Hertl, he was mid-first round draft pick (13th overall by the Blues in 2007). Eller has some intriguing linemates in Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, but it remains to be seen if he can stay within striking distance of the pace he's generated so far. Like Hertl, Eller is talented, but both need the right mix of injury luck, positive bounces and opportunities to make the most of things.
-- Sam Gagner four goals (and four assists) for Edmonton on that memorable day in Feb. 2, 2012 (age 22).
The dream scenario is for this to be Hertl’s “Gagner moment,” bypassing the awkward first few years Gagner experienced in Edmonton. It’s difficult to dispute the notion that Gagner found his confidence following that historic outburst, especially following it all up successfully last season (when he took advantage of a big opportunity to showcase his skills by scoring 38 points in 48 games).
No doubt, logic says that Hertl will flatten out.
Really, though, the situation is promising enough - he’s lining up with Big Bird! - that I’m not really against giving him a short-term pickup. He’s currently owned in just 31 percent of leagues, but that’s likely to change by the merit of his highlight reel goal alone. If he doesn’t work out, you can drop him for a stable-but-not-very-exciting guy instead.
Let’s not forget the moments when you just said “aw, why not?” and rolled the dice with a depth position. Personally, I most fondly remember grabbing Eric Staal, Henrik Lundqvist and Cheechoo in the extremely early stages of their breakthroughs and reaped some serious rewards.
Plus … he’s playing with Joe Thornton.
After the jump: game notes from a busy Tuesday.