SAN JOSE -- He is no longer a teen-ager, having turned 20 last week. His limited English is improving. He's been introduced to sushi. And on the ice, San Jose Sharks' rookie forward Tomas Hertl has shown he can bounce back from a cold spell.

Don't underestimate the importance of that last accomplishment.

"A lot of rookies go through it," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the dry patch in Hertl's season, "and sometimes you don't hear from them again for a long time. At least Tomas has come through it and we're hearing from him again. That's a real positive."

McLellan said the big changes in the Czech Republic native's life — new country, new league, new team, a sometimes harsh spotlight — can take an emotional toll that might explain the eight-game stretch in which Hertl scored only one goal and one assist. That and the physicality of the North American game.

But he's been on a point-a-game pace the last seven with four goals and three assists. And the goals have been timely — one in the waning seconds in Vancouver that sent the game into overtime, another that proved to be the winner the next night in Edmonton.

"He's opportunistic," McLellan said. "If he has the puck in the offensive zone below the tops of the circles, he's dangerous. If he doesn't have it, he's still dangerous because his linemates are doing a pretty good job of roaming around and finding him."


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San Jose's first-round draft pick in 2012, Hertl had the NHL's attention in only his third game with four goals against the New York Rangers, the last one a highlight-reel mainstay that earned generated a bit of league-wide controversy.

He would go on to become the NHL's rookie of the month for October. And any early Calder Trophy discussion starts with Hertl as his 12 goals, 16 points and plus-7 top the numbers for any first-year player.

But his growth on the ice is only part of his development as an NHL player. Conversations with his teammates over the past month show they are also impressed with what he's managing to do off it.

"We were just talking about it the other night, how most days he's exhausted because his brain is working so hard to try and learn the English language," said Logan Couture, who, at 24, was still the youngest Shark until Hertl arrived. "I was over in Switzerland and it was tough for me just to listen to French all day and German."

Alex Stalock probably has spent the most time with Hertl as the two had been living in the same downtown hotel. That meant the backup goalie shuttled Hertl back and forth to the team's practice rink because he does not have a valid driver's license, though he is working on that.

Stalock has had a role in improving Hertl's language skills — "When I text, I've got 'translate' up on the iPhone, but he'd rather have me text him in English" — but is also providing an education in the patterns of life in the NHL.

"I remember being called up my first time — not knowing what to wear, how early to be places," Stalock said. "It's good for him to kind of figure it out until he gets the routine down."

The day before San Jose went on it's just completed nine-night road trip, Hertl moved out of his hotel and into the spare bedroom of a Monte Sereno family, which has provided a home-like environment over the years to other young Sharks, including two of Hertl's older teammates, Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan.

That move also means that until Hertl gets that California driver's license, he will be car-pooling to work more often than not with Marty Havlat, who lives nearby and is the only other Czech player on the team.

When the season began, Hertl had very limited responses in English interviews. Always smiling, he would tell reporters he was happy to be in the NHL. When he scored four goals, he repeated, "This is a dream."

Now, he says he understands the questions better. And his responses, while not lengthy or complex, do show a growing vocabulary.

Ask him a month ago if he had any favorite restaurants in San Jose, for example, and he would just shrug. Now he names a sushi place on Winchester Boulevard, and an Italian restaurant that has been a long-time downtown favorite with players for years.

The language gap during a game, too, seems to be less of a concern now. After Joe Thornton set up Hertl for a sweet tap-in against Edmonton, the Sharks captain noted the rookie only had to call out one word to make the play work.

"Just, 'Joe!' That's all he needs," Thornton said.

Tommy Wingels, who occupies the other wing on Thornton's line in the absence of injured Brent Burns, also minimized any communication problems.

"Not to call our game too easy, but there aren't too many words of communication on the ice," Wingels said. "We're all hockey players and even with the language barrier I think Tomas has found the necessary words."

Hertl, who leads the Sharks in goals, is very much aware he benefits from playing alongside Thornton.

"Yes, Joe is a very good passer and every game . . . a lot of chances for me," Hertl said. "He's been very good for me and Tommy, and it's been easy for me to score."

Thornton knows the challenge of entering the NHL as a teen-ager because that was his experience in 1997. He said Hertl is handling it well.

"As a young player, the road's going to be a little different for you," Thornton said, "The sleep patterns are different, there's more games than you're used to. But I think he's handling it really well."

Thornton also praises his young linemate's skill set.

"He's just not shy to get in the dirty areas," the captain said. "He gets right in. For a young kid, he's really not feeling his way into the league. You can see his excitement coming into practice every day and it grows on guys."

Hertl seems very content. But he also is looking forward to the future, where he will have his own apartment and a car. He mentions that his girlfriend from Prague, who was in SAP Center the night he scored those four goals, will be back before Christmas and, maybe next year, she too will move to the United States.

The Sharks, of course, are looking forward to his future as well.

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.