SAN JOSE — Jaromir Jagr was Tomas Hertl's idol growing up in Prague, and the veteran New Jersey Devils forward joked that he might have a surprise for the Sharks rookie when the teams meet Saturday night.

"I've got to give him a challenge today, that's for sure," Jagr said after the Devils' morning skate. "I might get my first hit of the season."

Hertl leads all rookies in scoring with 12 goals and 18 points. Athough the two faced each other twice in the Czech league, where Jagr played during the NHL lockout last year, Hertl circled this game on the schedule when he knew he would be on the Sharks roster.

Jagr, who leads the Devils in scoring with nine goals and 18 points, praised Hertl as a good player with size and skill.

"There's a lot of guys in Europe who've got a lot of talent, but when they come here in U.S. they might have a tough time because they don't know how to play on the boards and in the corners," Jagr said. "That's not his problem. He was playing that kind of style in Europe so you knew it was a matter of time when he was going to be good in NHL."

At 41, Jagr is more than twice as old as Hertl, who turned 20 last week. Jagr has scored 690 NHL goals, more than any other European player. His last one came in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings, tying him with Gordie Howe for most game-winners at 121.

Jagr scored most of his goals in Pittsburgh playing alongside Mario Lemieux, and compared his situation to Hertl's with Joe Thornton in San Jose.

"He's playing with Joe. He can learn a lot from him," Jagr said. "I love Joe, the way he plays. If he had a chance to learn from someone, that's the guy. Like I had Mario, he's got Joe. And Joe likes to protect the puck, too. He's got a long reach, a long stick so I think it's going to help him, too."

Hertl has patterned his game after Jagr's — work along the boards and in the corners, then get to the net and shoot. Some in the Czech media have already labeled Hertl "the next Jagr."

So how often has the first Jagr heard that?

"He's probably number three," Jagr said. "Twenty-five years, that's not too bad. But two didn't make it. They didn't even make it to the NHL."

Jagr said Hertl benefited from the fact that his home team in the Czech league played on a smaller, NHL-size rink rather than the larger rink that is standard in Europe.. The arena in Prague was built to attract NHL games. Operators then decided to keep the smaller rink year-round.

While Jagr praised Hertl, he did point out "he's got a long way to go and can learn a lot. But he's got the potential to be a top guy. It's up to him how he's going to handle it."

Jagr was also asked if it's natural for a young player to be excited about playing his childhood idol.

"Probably my age, I shouldn't be playing right now," he responded. "I don't know if it's natural, but it happened."

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.