(HockeyStL) -- It was mid-March of last year when Jaden Schwartz stepped off of the plane he had taken to meet his new Blues’ teammates in Chicago. Schwartz was greeted by the Fox Sports Midwest cameras that were awaiting the youngster’s arrival. He was only 19 at the time, and the hype surrounding him was already massive. At this point, no one knew if Russian prospect Vladimir Tarasenko would be coming to North America, so, in everyone’s eyes, Schwartz was the only prospect that the Blues could use in the relatively near future.
Schwartz did not have the typical build of a National Hockey League (NHL) player, but he had the persistence to make up for what he lacked in size. It took him only five days to crack the Blues starting lineup, and he proved his worth by scoring the game-winning goal in his first NHL game.
Schwartz remained on the team for the last month of the season, and the playoffs. Despite not suiting up for a single playoff game, Schwartz found value in just watching his teammates play.
“It was a great experience for me,” said Schwartz. “I was lucky to get to do that. It helped me a lot and I learned so much from the older guys. I got to play in seven games and that helped, but even just watching the games and being around the guys helped. It was great, and obviously it is beneficial to me this year.”
Schwartz accumulated three points (two goals, one assist) in seven regular season games, and he headed into offseason knowing that he needed to work on various aspects of his game, as well as getting stronger. Schwartz never expected to have this much time before training camp got underway, but he put it to good use, and came into camp nearly 14 pounds heavier than last season. Schwartz has already impressed Hitchcock, and camp has only just started.
“He’s 192 pounds; he’s not a light player,” said Hitchcock. “He’s a heavy, hard, strong player. For his size, he is heavy on the puck. He is a coach’s player.”
“He’s got speed and quickness, and he’s good on the forecheck. It will be interesting when things get dialed up for real, but he’s showing more and more everyday he’s here.”
Schwartz has his work cut out for him as the intensity of practices begins to increase, but his stint in Peoria gives him a slight edge over the competition. Schwartz has been in the American Hockey League for the entire season up to this point. He has played in 33 games for the Rivermen thus far and has registered 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists). Mistakes in the AHL are much more easily forgiven, and the game’s tempo and pace is decreased substantially, but the Rivermen had Schwartz playing in many different situations which is nothing but beneficial to the young forward. Schwartz told KTRS’ David Solomon that playing in Peoria has bettered his overall game.
“I think it has helped a lot. I was playing in most situations in Peoria. A lot of NHL players were down in the AHL so that gives you confidence competing against them and having success.”
“It was fun down there. I learned a lot and hopefully it helps moving forward here.”
Besides adding 14 pounds to his physique in the offseason, Schwartz fine-tuned his defensive game, which was not quite where it needed to be last season. The 20-year old feels that just by being in practices, he is able to make the necessary adjustments to his game. He also believes that his consistency is, and needs to continue to be one of his strong points.
“Consistency has always been a big focus of mine,” said Schwartz. “In college hockey you don’t play as many games so this year has already been different for me. I thought that I was consistent in Peoria for the most part. Obviously you’re not going to score every game, and you will go through stretches where you won’t get any points but you just have to continue to battle through it.” It appears that Schwartz has a legitimate chance at making the team, especially if he can perform well in the intensified scrimmages that will take place on Tuesday and Thursday. The shortened season could end up being a blessing in disguise for Schwartz, whose chances to make the team are amplified because of the team’s need for depth. Schwartz said he has conversed only a few times with Hitchcock the past few days, and that it is much too early to discuss his potential role on the team, but he does know what is expected of him if he is to make the team.
“I think I need to just stick to how I play,” said Schwartz. “I don’t want to change too much. Obviously I have to manage the puck well. I need to stick to the system and be responsible. My game is centered on making plays so I need to continue to do that, and just work as hard as I can.”
With Tarasenko highlighting the Blues training camp, Schwartz has taken the backseat in the minds of many fans, but in the minds of the coaching staff he is someone that could be of value to the team. Time will tell if Schwartz will become the second of the Blues’ 2010 first round draft picks to make the team this season. He is certainly on the right track.