Top Shelf: Hertl leaps into spotlight for Sharks

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Updated: 10/10/2013 1:38 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - If by now you haven't seen Tomas Hertl take advantage of poor Martin Biron on a breakaway, do yourself a favor and check it out on YouTube right now.

Even more impressive than the highlight-reel goal itself was the fact that it was the 19-year-old's fourth tally of the game. Hertl's huge night was part of San Jose's 9-2 romp over the visiting New York Rangers, and the performance has vaulted the young Czech forward into the NHL spotlight.

The question now is whether Hertl's stellar night was a sign of things to come or merely an anomaly? The answer could be crucial to the future success of the Sharks franchise.

To say Hertl has come out of nowhere isn't entirely accurate. Although his three NHL games this season marks his first foray into North American hockey, he is a first-round pick (17th overall by San Jose in 2012) and spent last season playing among men in the Czech Extraliga. Still, his 18 goals and 30 points in 43 games for HC Slavia Praha in 2012-13 failed to predict Hertl's amazing start to his NHL career.

Heading into Thursday's action, Hertl is leading all NHLers in both goals (six) and points (seven) and is staking an early claim as the front-runner for this season's Calder Memorial Trophy, the league's rookie of the year award.

The terrific start to the season, and specifically his four-goal night, even has managed to take Hertly by surprise.

"This is a dream," Hertl said. "Four goals, I never in the Czech League. I never had three. In the NHL, it's crazy."

The goal that has everybody talking -- the one with a half-million views and counting on YouTube -- is what has really captured the imagination of hockey fans everywhere. With Rangers No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist already pulled from the game, Biron came in for one of his rare appearances in net and he wasn't prepared for what Hertl had in store for goal No. 4. But really, what goaltender would be?

Hertl skated in alone on Biron with the puck on his forehand before switching to his backhand, pulling the disc between his legs and snapping it into the upper left corner of the net. It was the hockey equivalent of the time Roger Federer hitting a no-look winner between his legs, and just like Novak Djokovic, Biron had no chance to stop it from happening.

It is worth mentioning that Hertl's between-the-legs shot was pulled off once before by Marek Malik, albeit that was in a shootout. Coincidentally, Malik, a Czech native just like Hertl, was playing for the Rangers when he fooled Washington's Olaf Kolzig with the move during the 2005-06 season. Unfortunately, Malik never had much NHL success outside of his memorable shootout goal, and he kind of faded into history. The Sharks are hoping Hertl has a great deal more to offer when it comes to staying power.

If Hertl is the real deal, it could change things for the Sharks in a big way. San Jose is entering a transition season of sorts with center Joe Thornton, winger Patrick Marleau and defenseman Dan Boyle all scheduled to be unrestricted free agents at season's end. However, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski were both signed to five-year extensions this past offseason and Hertl has a chance to join that group as the new leaders of the franchise.

The Sharks have had tremendous amount of regular-season success over the years, but have never made it past the Western Conference finals. If San Jose can successfully use guys like Couture and Hertl to reshuffle the deck, then maybe the potential loss of veterans like Boyle, Marleau and Thornton won't sting quite as much.

For now, however, it'll be interesting just to see if Hertl can stay in the spotlight he's created for himself. After all, fame in the NHL can be fleeting, but for now at least, Hertl has our undivided attention.

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