SAN JOSE -- He is no longer a teenager, having turned 20 last week. His English is improving. He's been introduced to sushi. And on the ice, Sharks rookie 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," coach Todd McLellan said of the dry patch in Hertl's season. "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 big changes in Hertl'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 the Czech Republic native had one goal and one assist. That and the physicality of the North American game.
But Hertl has been on a point-a-game pace over 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 to 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."
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 generated a bit of leaguewide controversy.
He would go on to become the NHL's rookie of the month for October. His 12 goals, 18 points and plus-7 lead all first-year players.
But his growth on the ice is only part of his development. Conversations with his teammates show they are also impressed with what he's doing off it.
"We were 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 the youngest Shark until Hertl arrived.
Backup goalie Alex Stalock probably has spent the most time with Hertl, as the two had been living in the same downtown hotel. That meant shuttling Hertl back and forth to the team's practice rink because he does not have a driver's license, though he is working on that.
Stalock has had a role in improving Hertl's language skills, but he also is 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.
The day before San Jose went on its just completed five-game trip, Hertl moved out of his hotel and into the spare bedroom of a Monte Sereno family, which has provided a homelike environment over the years to other young Sharks, including Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan.
That move means Hertl will be carpooling 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 a month and a half ago, Hertl had very limited responses in English. 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, and he would shrug. Now he names a sushi place on Winchester Boulevard and an Italian restaurant downtown.
The language gap during a game, too, seems to be less of a concern. After Joe Thornton set up Hertl for a 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 has occupied the other wing on Thornton's line during 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 teenager 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 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 having his own apartment and car. He mentions that his girlfriend from Prague will be here for Christmas and, maybe next year, she will move to the United States.
The Sharks, of course, are looking forward to his future as well.
Tampa Bay (14-7-0) at Sharks (13-3-5),
7:30 p.m. CSNCA