Thursday, September 8, 2011

Stewart could have big impact on Blues' success

Power forward leaner, lighter, ready to help team get to higher ground in West

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Chris Stewart's heard it all. He'll score 30 goals, 40 goals. A monster season is ahead of him.

The Blues feel like it's in the 23-year-old as well, and if that's the case, a full season of Stewart will only enhance the Blues' chances of ascending up the Western Conference standings.

"What's not to like about him," Blues center Patrik Berglund asked recently. "He's big, strong, he can handle the puck well. His presence in front of the net is something we need on this team. We developed some good chemistry playing together last season and I'm looking forward to doing it again this year."

In 62 games last season, Stewart tied a career best with 28 goals (15 of them came in 26 games after being traded from Colorado to the Blues) but many in the hockey world feel like this is a 30-, 40-goal scorer and 2011-12 could be the year to do it.
(Getty Images)
Chris Stewart's production could be key to a successful Blues' season.

"You can't put a number on it when it comes stat-wise," said the Toronto native. "I feel like if I can play the way I play, you're going to get your opportunities and those kinds of things will take care of themselves. I started to develop a lot of chemistry with Berglund at the end of the year. I think a fresh start at the beginning of the year is only going to help us both."

A line of Berglund, Stewart and T.J. Oshie is one that Blues coach Davis Payne will have a keen eye on as the season unveils ... especially Stewart.

He's a guy we know can score, he's a guy that we know can have a physical role in a game," Payne said of Stewart. "How he puts that together in a game night in and night out, how he finds that high level of consistency is what we're looking for.

"We feel he can be a dominant forward in this league. Part of that is consistency and putting his mind to it. That commitment and that understanding allows us to put him on the ice more. That's a big advantage for us if we can get to that."

Added Stewart, "Those are two great players to play with. You've got big Bergy who can shoot the puck. He wins a lot of draws and handles the puck. Oshie's a great playmaker. He likes to go into the corners and throw the body. I'm more of the simple power forward, just create room for them and let them do their thing and (myself) get the ugly goals. I'm perfectly fine with that. We've got a special bond off the ice. We hang out together and we're just going to have some fun."

Stewart was listed as 6-foot-2, 228 pounds to end last season but has trimmed off five pounds and is leaner in the body fat count, down to around 12 percent from 14-15.

"I took the off-season to get as strong as possible," said Stewart, who represented Canada at the World Championships. "Once late July or August comes around, you start worrying more about the on-ice conditioning and stuff like that. I was using that every day to get better. I feel like I'm ready to go right now. I can't wait for opening night, can't wait for training camp."

Stewart got off to a bit of a slow start in Colorado last season, scoring only 13 goals in 36 games. But many were surprised the Avalanche would give up on a 23-year-old with so much upside, especially one that potted 28 goals and 64 points in his second NHL season.

But with the Blues' style of play, Stewart feels like he fits in accordingly.

"There's really no restrictions here," Stewart said. "You've got a lot of offensive power here. I think my job is not really to carry the puck, just kind of give it and go to the net. Just simplify things. The nights I simplify my game the most are the nights I have the most success."

Stewart, like many of his Blues teammates, have been in town prepping for the start of the season, and in particular, training camp, which begins a week from Friday.

"I've just felt like it's been a really long summer," Stewart said. "It's no secret that no one was happy leaving last year. There's obviously a lot of high expectations. ... You can see, we're probably one of the only teams in the league that has 90 percent of our team here right now. It's a good thing to see.

"As far as personal goals, I'm just going to fit them into team goals. Whatever I can do to help my team win every night, that's going to be the attitude."

And the attitude for the entire team is expecting to be in the postseason, not being hopeful. And if the Blues climb that tough ladder, Stewart's production will be vital.

"That has to be the whole attitude, the whole swagger," Stewart said. "We're not going to come around and be passengers anymore. It's time for this team to take the bull by the horns.

"I think the sky's the limit for us. We've made some key acquisitions over the off-season. I think if we come in and have a healthy year, there's no reason why we can't win our division."

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