In a Blues season full of genuinely surprising stories, Jaden Schwartz stands out the most. The 21 year old first round pick out of Melfort, Saskatchewan has given the Blues a boost this season and made the departure of streaky scorers like David Perron and Chris Stewart a smoother ride than expected. Along with Russian import Vladimir Tarasenko, Schwartz has become an unlikely 20 goals scorer and provided depth in only his second season with the team. There was no reason to question Schwartz’s heart and tenacity last season when he played in 45 games and tallied 7 goals to go with 6 assists. This season, he has risen above the expectations and provided this team with production and smart play.
After a brief 7 game stay in 2011-12, Schwartz came up to stay last season and fared well. He was a quick skating hungry player who wasn’t afraid to get his nose dirty. Whether or not he was a goal scorer in college doesn’t matter because anybody can hit this level and quickly flake out or drop off the map. Schwartz has rocketed up the charts and helped the Blues deal with numerous injuries. When leading scorer Alex Steen went down in December with a concussion, Schwartz and others stepped up at a time when Patrik Berglund and Stewart were missing in action. This kid can play and has surprised me every time he touches the ice. A scouting report can be fantastic but you have to get on the ice with these big players and fast play and be able to survive.
Schwartz produced 13 points in 2012-13 in 45 games and this season has taken a huge leap forward in production. He will be playing in his 65th game of the season tonight and has 21 goals and 29 assists heading in. He has gone from 13 points to 50 points with 15+ games to go. He has gone from a -4 on the ice to a +27 this season. He took 50 shots on goal last season and has 143 this season. He has risen his ice time from 12.5 minutes to 17 minutes. He can play a couple different lines and kill penalties quite well. Inside of one year, he has show remarkable improvement. A lot of hockey players have true grit, but few can back it up with production. On Thursday in a tight game against Edmonton and former Blue David Perron, Schwartz helped blow the game wide open by scoring twice. Suddenly, Jaden is a money player. One of many on this team.
Several players are paid and expected to make a healthy impact. Others like Schwartz, making 500,000 dollars this season, rise up and surprise you. The Blues play the Nashville Predators in Nashville tonight.
Random Game Time Notes-
*Ryan Miller continues to look solid in net. 6-1 as a Blues starter with 13 goals allowed which gives him a 2.34 goals against average. Miller is giving the Blues a confidence they haven’t felt in a very long time in net. The haters will spring up every time he allows a goal. That’s fine. I can handle that. He has shored up a question mark for this team. That question being who is our #1 goaltender when we make the playoffs. The Stars beat us in overtime Monday but the Blues were able to get a point because Miller made an outstanding save with just over 2 minutes left in regulation. Miller hasn’t faced more than 30 shots yet, which is weird for a guy who was used to odd man rushes and 35 plus shots against every night in Buffalo. So far so good and I can’t wait to see the brand new mask he has helped develop.
*Steve Ott is one of those guys where you can’t measure him by stats or ice time. He is an agitator who gets on the ice, wins faceoffs, shoves the right players, creates a Rodman effect and lets it soak in for three periods. He isn’t blowing me away with his abilities yet but come playoff time he will be a tool.
*T.J. Oshie was projected to have 66 points in 82 games and already has 53 through 66 games, including 36 assists. The kid is having a good year. And for the rest of the world who is still shocked by his Sochi performance, any Blues fan can tell you he has been money in shootouts since he got here.
*Speaking of Steen, look at his 29 goals in only 55 games. He takes a lot of shots and unlike most of his teammates, they actually reach the net. While missing time, the guy is having a banner season.
*Attention Alex Pietrangelo. It is okay to put a slap shot from the point on goal every once in a while. The kid is full of talent and ability but can’t shoot a puck on goal for his life.
*I love the way Ryan Reaves challenges other enforcers and they say hell no. Hockey players may lose a lot of their teeth but common sense isn’t completely lost yet.
That’s it. These have been your pregame headline and notes. Thanks for reading and come back for more.