SAN JOSE -- By chance or by design, or maybe a little bit of both, the NHL has more of a baby-faced look this season.

Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl is one of 21 NHL players still in their teens, though he loses his membership in that group when he turns 20 on Nov. 12. And while Hertl's eight goals top the teenage brigade, others also are making significant contributions:

Nathan Mackinnon in Colorado, Sean Monahan in Calgary, Aleksander Barkov in Florida, Seth Jones in Nashville -- all join Hertl among the top 10 rookie scorers one month into the season.

So why the increase in NHL players who are more than a year away from legally downing a beer with teammates outside Canada?

Talent is part of the explanation, as the 2013 draft class was considered the strongest and deepest in years. But economics and changes to the game also could explain why, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, more teenagers have played in an NHL game this season than any opening month since 2010.

"There's no question that the salary cap coming down from $70 million made it pretty tight for certain teams," said Dave Taylor, a former NHL general manager with the Los Angeles Kings and now in the St. Louis Blues front office. "They've tried to work some of the younger players into the lineup."

Staying under the current $64.3 million salary cap wasn't a factor with the Buffalo Sabres, who have the most teens on their roster. When Buffalo faces the Sharks on Tuesday night, four -- Zemgus Girgensons, Mikhail Grigorenko, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov -- could all line up against San Jose.

Rule changes designed to increase the tempo of games provide another explanation for the early success that younger players are finding.

"When you come in at 18 or 19, you're not always the biggest guy," said Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, now 26, but a teenager when he reached the NHL. "Before, you wanted bigger guys because you were allowed to do so much more. Now the game has opened up. That gives opportunities to younger guys to step in."

Jumping to the NHL as a teenager provides challenges on and off the ice. And Hertl is about to follow a path taken by Vlasic and other Sharks to reduce the stress.

Friday, Hertl will move out of a downtown hotel and into the home of a Monte Sereno family to approximate the billet experience found in junior hockey.

"It just makes it so much easier," Vlasic said. "It gets you concentrating just on the hockey aspect. The rest is taken care of -- the meals, where you're staying. He'll have a great setup there."

In the past, Brad Stuart and Milan Michalek have stayed with the same family. Players sleep in a guest room with a private bathroom, eating with the family when the schedule allows.

For Hertl, a native of the Czech Republic, the move should help him adapt to life in North America and improve his limited English. On the other hand, it also will have him living closer to Marty Havlat, the one teammate who speaks his language and whose family can offer him some Czech cooking.

"Every time he needs some help, I tell him to come to me, ask me and don't be shy," Havlat said, adding that other players do the same. "There's a lot of little things that are new for him. ... Trying to get a driver's license, those little things."

With a teenage son of his own playing hockey away from home in the USHL, Sharks coach Todd McLellan sees the benefits of Hertl's move both as a father and a coach. And he notes that Hertl earned the right to change addresses.

"He had to work hard and prove that he belonged here, not just for one or two games, but for a long road trip," McLellan said. "Now it's our job to help him as much as we can."

For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PollakOnSharks.

Tuesday's game
Buffalo (2-13-1) at Sharks (10-1-3), 7:30 p.m. CSNCA