SAN JOSE — Tomas Hertl, it turns out, is a smart guy willing to give a fairly straightforward answer to any question. As long as the language is Czech.
Monday, with the help of Roman Jedlicka -- @Jedli on Twitter, a Czech play-by-play announcer with NOVA TV sport — I spent 40 minutes talking with the Sharks first-round 2012 draft pick about his past, present and future. Jedlicka sensed the challenge of interviewing Hertl in English and offered to serve as translator. I took him up on it.
I'll rearrange a few things to try and give the Q&A that follows some structure rather than let it veer into one topic and then back to another as the interview did.
ON THE ICE
Q: On the ice, your adjustment to the NHL so far has looked very easy. Has it been?
That's how it it maybe looks. But everything is much quicker in the NHL. I give a pass to somebody and then suddenly I get hit.
Q: What would be the biggest difference between the NHL and playing in Europe?
It's really a big difference to play in the NHL because in the Czech league, I have much more time for everything. In NHL, there are very good systems. We are playing under a super-system. It's different from the Czech league and we are spending more time in front of TVs watching video.
Q: You mentioned the hitting aspect. It's only two games, but are teams playing physical against you because they see what you're doing out there?
I don't think that teams are paying some attention to me. I don't mind if somebody hits me because I like it, because I'm ready for it. I'm ready for getting hit and I'm ready to hit someone. No problem with that for me.
Q: So that hit on Vancouver defenseman Chris Tanev, when you drilled him into the boards, that's how you like to play the game then?
I think so. In the Czech Extraliga, I liked hitting. I was ready for it and I tried to hit anybody. I like to be a tough player as well.
Q: Is there a term for "power forward" in Czech?
No, we don't have anything like "power forward" in the Czech Republic. We don't call it that way.
OFF THE ICE
Q: Let's talk about things away from the rink. How has it been getting to know San Jose and learning about American culture. Has that been a challenge or easy to do?
I am getting used to San Jose. Some things are easy, some things are not.
What is not good for me is transportation to get myself to someplace because I don't have a car and I can't rent one because I am not 21 years old. I don't know if I can buy a car because I am still fighting for my spot. I don't if I have to buy a car and I am living in a hotel.
Q: Tomas, before we got on the phone, you told me you spent the off day Sunday in San Francisco with your girlfriend and your mother. Was that your first time there and have you gotten to see other parts of Northern California?
With my mom and girlfriend, we went by train. But it wasn't the first time in San Francisco for me. I have already been there one time in early September with the guys from the team because we had a day off. I liked the Golden Gate Bridge and I have to say the city is really, really nice.
Q: Who on the team is helping you get adjusted to life here, maybe showing you around a little?
The guy who really helps me is Marty Havlat because he is the only one that understands me. We are both from the Czech Republic.
The other guys help me as well. Alex Stalock takes me with his car to practices so he's another guy who helped me.
Q: If the team says to move out of hotel, does he plan to move in with a family or get an apartment for himself?
In the beginning of summer, I spent two weeks with a family and we had an agreement that if I will make the team, I will live there. It would be really good for me because I will have in my head only hockey and nothing else.
The family was great to me. As far as buying my own apartment, maybe for next year.
Q: Any favorite restaurant or favorite American-style meal?
I don't have some favorite restaurant, but what I like is steak because I know it. I think in the future, guys on the team will help me and give me advice where to go. Marty Havlat, we went to have sushi and the guys from the team like a restaurant, Aldo's.
Q: Do you watch much television? Any favorite American TV show?
I don't have any favorite TV show. I'm just surfing the TV channels and what I really like are sports programs and all the sports games.
THE JAGR COMPARISON
Q: When you first started watching NHL hockey, who were the players you tried to pattern yourself after?
Definitely my childhood idol was Jaromir Jagr. I was a Pittsburgh Penguins supporter, that's why I like Evgeni Malkin. I try to play like Jagr and Malkin. I watched their videos.
You know, I am a little similar to Jaromir Jagr. Both of us have big bottoms and I just try to use my big bottom as Jagr does.
Q: Are you aware they are already making Jagr-Hertl comparison back in the Czech Republic? Are you comfortable with that?
I know they compare me and Jaromir Jagr. To be honest, it's really a nice feeling, but I think Jaromir Jagr is on another level. It's a long way for me to be like Jaromir Jagr. He is a Czech hockey legend.
I just would like to play my game and I don't know if some day in the future I would be like Jaromir Jagr. But I don't think so. He is a real legend.
Q: Do you look forward to playing against Jagr in the NHL?
Yes, I am looking forward to that game, but I have played against him in the Czech league. And I just want to say I am looking forward to every game in the NHL because I am really enjoying the NHL. It's like a dream for me to play in the league.
THE DECISION TO COME TO NORTH AMERICA
Q: Was is it a difficult decision to come to the NHL this season?
For many years I had a dream to play in NHL so there was no question. I wanted to go overseas even if I were to play in the AHL in the minors because I know the team wanted me to improve my English and I wanted to play overseas.
So that people from San Jose (the organization) could watch my game, I wanted to be closer to them. That was clear from me that I wanted to play in the NHL. I just knew that I would do anything that the people in San Jose tell me.
Q: Former NHL player Vladimir Ruzicka was your general manager and coach with Slavia Praha? Did he try to talk you out of coming to the NHL this season, and when he realized you were leaving, did he pass along any advice?
He told me to stay one more year in Slavia Praha. That was just his advice. It wasn't that he didn't want me to go there, that it would be better for me. But in the end, he wished me good luck in the NHL, he told me to practice hard, that that was the way it goes in the NHL.
Slavia Praha is my teammate from my childnood and I will come back every summer. I have to say I would like to thank Vladimir Ruzicka for the chance he gave me many years ago and what he has done for me.
Q: Because of the lockout last year, several NHL players from the Czech Republic went home and played in your league. Do you think that has helped your development?
That was really good for me. I had a chance to play against them. Especially Kladno, a Czech team, had a whole line of Czech players — Jagr, Thomas Plekanec and Jiri Tlusty. And the d was Marek Zidlicki and Tomas Kaberle.
Even in Slavia Praha, we had two players from NHL — Roman Cervenka and Vlaidimir Sobotka. I practiced with Vladimir Sobotka over the summer and he talked with me about NHL so that was really good.
ODDS, ENDS AND ENGLISH
Q: Why did you choose No. 48 when you played with No. 90 in the Czech league?
I didn't choose that number. They gave it to me so I'm playing with 48.
Q: Do you have a preference for another number at some point?
Yes, I thought about it, maybe in the future. But if I am successful with 48, I don't have reason to change it.
It's not important what number is on my jersey. For me, what's important is I have the jersey on myself.
Q: We've talked before about the constant smile. Does that just reflect your outlook as a player?
I've always tried to be as positive as I could.
We are winning games, so there is no reason to be sad so I have a smile on my face all the time. I was smiling in the Czech Republic and I'm smiling in San Jose -- no difference. I'm just a positive person.
Q: Finally, back to English: how hard is it to learn the language under these circumstances -- when coaches and teammates are trying to communicate?
You know, the Czech language is not easy because we have an incredible amount of words. This may be bad for me because I am thinking about every word, trying to translate from Czech to English and the delay grows because English is much easier than the Czech language.
I understand what people tell me, but it's hard for me to make a sentence to speak. I don't have too much of a problem as it may seem, but if I don't understand anything, I ask and the coaches show me.
I'm trying to improve my English definitely, but if I don't know, they will draw on the paper and I take that paper home and look at it again and again, not only the words, but the system and everything.
Follow David Pollak on Twitter.com at @PollakOnSharks