Monday, January 14, 2013

Schwartz making early statement in training camp

Blues' 2010 first round pick setting sights on permanent spot on NHL roster

Jaden Schwartz
ST. LOUIS -- When Jaden Schwartz got a seven-game audition in the National Hockey League last season, he got quite the reality check.

"I knew guys in the league were big and strong, but until you actually go up against them, you don't realize how much," the Melfort, Saskatchewan native and 14th pick of the 2010 NHL Draft said.

Schwartz, who was drafted out of Colorado College by the Blues with one of their two first round picks (Vladimir Tarasenko was the 16th pick), came into the league listed at 5-foot-9 and 179 pounds. Compared to today's player, where 6-4, 220-pound players seem like a dime a dozen, Schwartz would be labeled as a can't-miss project but severely lacking the size to make it at this level.

Well, the 20-year-old Schwartz can't do anything about extending his height. Chances are he's done growing, but Schwartz certainly can put on some bulk to compete with guys that would love nothing more than to just brush him aside without any effort.

"Obviously I needed to get a little stronger in the off-season," said Schwartz, who came into camp this year at 192 pounds. "I feel like I did a good job of that. It's a big jump from college."

With a plethora of depth at forward for the Blues, who went through a second day of training camp Monday at Scottrade Center, vying for playing time will be ultra-competitive. And Schwartz knows it. But judging by coach Ken Hitchcock's willingness to play Schwartz on a line with Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart, Schwartz doesn't appear to be vying for a spot on the Blues, he seems be gaining momentum every day that he'll be among the final 23.

The way he practiced today, right at the top of the heap," Hitchcock said Monday when asked where Schwartz fits in. "I don't know. He's 192 pounds, he's not a light player. He's a heavy, hard, strong player. For his size, he's heavy on the puck. He does all the things ... he's a coach's player. He does things that you like as a coach. So right now, I thought that line was excellent today.

"He's right there. He's got speed, he's got quickness, he gets into the hard areas. He's really good on the forecheck. It'll be interesting when things get dialed up for real, but I think right now, he's showing more and more every day he's here."

Schwartz was thrown right into the fire last season when the Blues were fighting for the top spot in the league. He flew into Chicago on March 13th to join the team and played in his first game March 17th at Tampa Bay, scoring a goal on his first NHL shot.

Schwartz finished with two goals and three points in seven games but the wealth of experience was extremely beneficial.

"It was a great experience for me," Schwartz said. "I was really glad I got to do that. It helped me a lot, I learned a lot from the older guys. The fact I got to play in seven games helped, but even watching the games and just being around the guys helped, too. It was a great experience and it's been beneficial for me this year.

"How big of an advantage it is or not, it's definitely an advantage for me. I'm excited. I feel like I'm in game shape and I'm ready to go."

Schwartz, who scored 33 goals and added 50 assists in 60 games for the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League in 2009-10, won't change who he has been just because he's now on the big stage. If he does that, it could be a detriment in his development and impede his chances of staying here.
Jaden Schwartz - St Louis Blues v Phoenix Coyotes
(Getty Images)
Jaden Schwartz (right) skated in seven games for the Blues last season.

"I think I've just got to stick with how I play," Schwartz said. "I don't want to change too much. Obviously I've got to manage the puck well, make sure I'm sticking to systems and be responsible defensively. My game's making plays, but I've just got to manage the puck well and work as much as I can.

"Being smart and responsible defensively's huge. ... Once you go through practices and games, the experience is going to help you."

Schwartz has a leg up as well because he was able to get into 33 games playing for the American Hockey League's Peoria Rivermen during the lockout, collecting nine goals and 19 points along the way.

Hitchcock is not sure yet what will become of Schwartz by week's end, but for a guy who's coached in 1,110 career regular season games, it doesn't take long to spot talent. And Hitchcock likes where Schwartz's game is headed.

"I don't know that yet. I'm not sure," Hitchcock said. "It's different when you're playing in league play and everything. Right now, he looks like a real good player. But when you're playing against other sweaters ... I think we'll get a better read here in the next couple of scrimmages."

Schwartz knows there's five lines of forwards here competing for a spot among 12 regulars. Most slots are filled. He wants to make it unanimous that he's not on the fringe.

"There's a lot of good forwards up here, no question," Schwartz said. "It's a really deep team, but that's only going to help the team. ... This is where I want to be and I'll do whatever it takes to help this team win."

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