Monday, March 12, 2012

Blues sign Jaden Schwartz to entry-level contract

2010 first round pick finished sophomore
season at Colorado College, joined team in Chicago

CHICAGO -- There will be no minor league seasoning for 2010 Blues first round pick Jaden Schwartz. He'll be joining the big boys right off the hop.

The Blues announced the signing of Schwartz, who left Colorado College after his sophomore season, to an entry-level contract on Monday. Schwartz joined the Blues in Chicago on Monday and will be available to play against the Blackhawks Tuesday night.

Schwartz, 19, is a left winger who was the Blues' 2010 first-round draft pick (14th overall). He completed his second season with the Tigers, picking up 15 goals and adding 26 assists in 30 games after a 17-goal, 47-point season with Colorado College his freshman year, where he led the nation among freshmen in scoring average at 1.56 points per game.

Turning pro was a whirlwind experience for Schwartz and a decision that came rather quickly.

(Getty Images)
Jaden Schwartz at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

"This opportunity popped up and you can't turn down an opportunity like this," Schwartz said after he arrived at the team hotel. "It's a tough decision. Our season (at Colorado College) ended pretty unexpectedly and this opportunity popped up pretty quick. I didn't have too much time to think about it, but I wanted to turn pro if the opportunity came. For me, it did and I feel very fortunate."

For a family that has struggled with the tragic loss of Mandi Schwartz, Jaden's sister, in the past year, it was welcomed news for Jaden's parents Rick and Carol Schwartz.

"They're super-excited," Schwartz said of his parents. "That's an understatement to say the least. They sacrificed a lot for our family. Hockey's a big part of our lives. We've been through some hard times lately. This is something that definitely makes them smile and I know they're extremely excited for this."

Schwartz was picked to return to Team Canada for the 2012 World Junior Championships in Edmonton and Calgary, being named the team captain.

He had two goals and five points in six games, including one goal against Russia in the semifinals when he was named Canada's Player of the Game.

"A tournament like that playing for Canada, there's so many good players, so many good players to pick across from Canada," Schwartz said. "When you make a team like that and you play an important role, it's going to give you confidence."

The Blues had a decision to make once Schwartz announced his intentions to turn pro: send him to Peoria and play in the American Hockey League or immediately bring him to the NHL.

After consideration and consultation with the teams scouts and personnel surrounding the Wilcox, Saskatchewan native while he played at the collegiate level, the Blues decided this is where he belonged.

"We looked at all the options," said Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. "When Jaden said he was ready to turn pro, we could have either sent him to Peoria for the rest of the year, or bring him right to the NHL and we had to make a decision. We just felt with his skill-set and our injuries, we thought it was worth signing him and bringing him into St. Louis and keeping him with our team the rest of the year."

How much of that is also based on the concussion injuries to Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini? Armstrong wouldn't say, only stating that the Blues have been consistent with the concussion protocol and that the players haven't told the team they're ready to come back.

Steen has not played since Dec. 27 (34 games), while D'Agostini has been out since Feb. 7 (18 games).

"Obviously with the injuries to D'Agostini and Steen maybe expedited this process," Armstrong said. "If they were healthy, we may not have gone this route. You have to deal with the cards you're playing with and right now, we think that Jaden has a chance to come in and prove to his teammates and the coaches he can help us now.

"I've been trying to be very consistent with concussions. The players are out until they tell us that they're in. You look around the NHL, there's no set timetable on anyone's return and so you have to judge accordingly and I thought it was worth getting Jaden into our team right now."

The Blues did take a gamble in signing Schwartz so late in the season, taking one of three years off his NHL entry-level status (if in Peoria, that would have began next year). But it was a gamble they felt like was worth it.

"Currently, we have 13 healthy forwards on our roster. For a team that hopes to play deep into April, May and June, I think it's unrealistic to think we'll get through that many games with 13 players," Armstrong said. "I think he's someone that has a chance to increase our skill level, someone that we want to take a look at with our team right now. We felt this was the right time."

It also may be telling in that the Blues didn't feel comfortable bringing someone up from the Rivermen to fill a void, if necessary.

"We've had our scouts monitor him closely," Armstrong said of Schwartz. "We've talked to the contacts in his league and talked to all of our scouting staff, and we just felt that where he's at in his career, where he's at in his game and where we're at in our season and with our personnel, it was worth the risk to bring him onto our team."

Then Armstrong caught himself and added: "I don't believe it's a risk because he's going to have a leg up on what to expect in the NHL next year."
(Getty Images)
Canada's Jaden Schwartz (middle) celebrates after scoring a goal in the
recent World Junior Championships. Schwartz signed an entry-level deal
to join the Blues on Monday.

It'll ultimately be up to coach Ken Hitchcock whether Schwartz plays, perhaps as soon as Tuesday against the Blackhawks, but from the sounds of it, the Blues plan to bring him in without throwing Schwartz in the fire.

"We'll want to make him comfortable in the environment before we throw him in," Armstrong said. "Ultimately that will be Ken's decision on when he believes he's ready to play an NHL game. We don't want to put him in a situation that we don't think he can succeed in.

"He carries himself and he seems to be emotionally mature beyond his years. That's not a concern of ours that he's mentally ready for the challenge. Physically, he's the player that we drafted. We want to find out where his strength is at this level. I think he's a player that the NHL level might be an easier level to play at than the American League level because his game is based around hockey sense. The ability to play with good players should really hopefully play into his game."

Schwartz was prepared for anything, whether it was playing in the AHL or NHL, and it wasn't going to affect his decision one way or the other.

"I was prepared for anything, whether it was the (AHL) or here," Schwartz said. "... It's been a busy couple days, but it's been very exciting.

"It's a dream come true to be in this spot. I'm very thankful to join a team like this that's doing so well and is such a great organization. It's pretty special."

* NOTES -- Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak, who's won a personal best eight straight starts, was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week, the league announced on Monday. Halak was 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .962 save percentage in wins over Chicago, Anaheim and Columbus. Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and New Jersey winger Ilya Kovalchuk were the first and second stars. ... By taking Jamie Langenbrunner (broken foot) off injured reserve Sunday, the Blues assigned T.J. Hensick to Peoria Monday. Hensick was a healthy scratch in all 11 games since he was recalled.

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