(Hockey STL) -- Coming into the abbreviated preseason camp, Jaden Schwartz was vying for a roster spot, but was not guaranteed anything. Schwartz came to the Blues late last season, but was a healthy scratch in the majority of games. To this point, Schwartz has played in just 54 National Hockey League games, so it’s a bit surprising how good he has looked to begin the postseason.
Earlier this week, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said that the Stanley Cup Playoffs were made for veteran players. Playoff games are typically harder on players’ bodies and require them to find a new level in their game. The first two games of the Western Conference Quarterfinals series between the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings have been Schwartz’s first career postseason games, but you would never be able to tell just by watching him.
“He’s the player that everybody saw in college,” said Hitchcock. “He’s tenacious on the puck, he’s strong and he’s such a smart player. He knows how to get people to put the pucks in the wrong areas where he can pick them off. He’s one of the few players in the league that can forecheck all by himself and create a turnover all by himself.”
Schwartz has plenty of experience leading teams through tournaments of rather large magnitude. In 2012, Schwartz captained Canada’s World Junior team. In two college seasons, Schwartz was highly regarded at Colorado College where he had 88 points (32 goals, 56 assists) in 60 games, as well as a playoff appearance in his final season with Colorado. Schwartz chose the Blues over his final two years of college, and played with the Note in seven games last season.
Schwartz took some time to settle into the NHL, but according to Hitchcock, he has become an effective player. Anyone watching the Blues’ first two games against the Kings can attest to this.
“He was a little bit too respectful of the league when he first started,” said Hitchcock. “He deferred a lot to other people. Once he started to dig in and play his own game, he became very effective.”
While Schwartz has yet to find the score sheet in this year’s playoffs, he has arguably been the Blues’ best player. Schwartz has been playing on a line with captain David Backes, and Alex Steen, both veteran guys that Schwartz seems to have chemistry with. Schwartz, a left-handed shot, could easily have multiple tallies if not for a bit of bad luck, and the stellar play of Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick.
As Hitchcock said, it’s Schwartz’s hockey IQ that makes him effective. Schwartz has created multiple opportunities by stripping the Kings of the puck, or intercepting a pass near a critical point on the ice. Ken Hitchcock playing the young forward on the top line speaks volumes in this case as Hitchcock is not very accepting of mistakes in the playoffs.
The Blues decided last season when they signed Schwartz that instead of sending him down to the American Hockey League’s Peoria Rivermen, they wanted him on the parent club for the remainder of the regular season, and the playoffs. While Schwartz was watching all nine playoff games from the press box, he claims the experience was still a fulfilling one for him.
“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 (regular season) 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.”
The Blues-Kings series is considered to be the most physical of any first-round series, and the first two games have shown why. There was a reason to be concerned as to whether or not Schwartz could keep up with his size, but it doesn’t appear to be an issue. Schwartz stands at 5’10”, making him the second-smallest roster player. Only forward Scott Nichol is shorter than Schwartz. Schwartz also weighs only 190 pounds. All but seven members of the Kings weigh 200-plus pounds, and their physicality is matched by few teams in the league. Still, Schwartz has perhaps been the most effective Blue with the puck.
“He’s a heavy, hard, strong player,” said Hitchcock. “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.”
When the Blues drafted Schwartz in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, he was highly touted. His worth to the Blues is extending past the regular season, and he is showing why he is more than just a roster-filler. From the College level, to the AHL, and now the NHL, Schwartz has had success at all levels. It’s hard to excel in the playoffs, but it seems Schwartz has it figured out.