Sunday, September 30, 2018

Blues' Swiss Army knife among most invaluable players in NHL

Jaden Schwartz "drags the team into the fight";
leads by example with sheer grit, energy, skill

ST. LOUIS -- The definition of a Swiss Army knife is simple. It's a multi-tool, with multiple instruments used for a variety of tasks.

It's known to be a trusted tool around the world.

Take that tool and translate to what it would be if it were a hockey player and how would one associate player with it.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz is the Blues' version of a Swiss Army knife,
and he thrives in being asked to do it all.

Probably a good place to start would be someone who's responsible, reliable, gritty, suffocating, plays with a tenacious, relentless intensity, is a good teammate, gets rewarded for hard work and skill and has an incredibly high infectious work ethic. 

Sound familiar? Yes? Anyone on the Blues come to mind? Perhaps the one that stands all of 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds of him.

Opponents hate playing against him. They consider him the worst kind of pest.

That's good because that means he's doing his job and doing it well.

His number is 17, and his name: Jaden Schwartz.

From the moment that Schwartz, a first round pick (No. 14) in the 2010 NHL Draft, made his debut with the Blues on March 17, 2012 at Tampa Bay and scored his first NHL goal (in a win no doubt), he has made his impact on the Blues in just about every facet from even-strength play, the man-advantage, penalty kill, 3-on-3, 4-on-4. You name it, chances are Schwartz's fingerprints are all over them, and helping decide the outcome for the Blues.

"Speed, energy, work ethic, he's a great player," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Schwartz. "He impacts all parts of the game. He's one of those players ... he drags the team into the fight. 

"You usually look at centermen and the impact that they have in the game and even though he's not a centerman, he impacts it that much because of how involved he is both in the offensive and defensive side of things, both parts of the special teams and his work ethic is second to none. That's what separates him. He's got a superstar work ethic."

That superstar work ethic has certainly been missed when Schwartz has been out of the Blues' lineup since his arrival. 

Schwartz has a career plus-minus of plus-75, has 271 points (113 goals, 158 assists) in 380 regular-season games and 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 49 career playoff games. The Blues have a 236-117-27 regular-season record when he plays, good for a .621 winning percentage. When Schwartz is out of the lineup, the Blues are a mere 39-35-14, good for a .443 winning percentage.

When Schwartz plays, the Blues have a goal differential of plus-192; when he doesn't, it's minus-29. 

The power-play clicks at 20.2 percent with Schwartz in the lineup, 18.4 percent when he's not. The penalty kill is actually higher at 85.1 percent when Schwartz is out of the lineup, as opposed to 83.9 with him, but the picture is painted pretty brightly here.

"He's obviously a huge piece in our locker room," Blues center and linemate Brayden Schenn said of Schwartz. "When he sits out, you notice. When he was out last year, we noticed. Every team has their guys and he's obviously one of ours."

Last season, when the Blues failed to make the playoffs by one point, is a prime example. The Blues jumped out to a 20-9-1 record the first 30 games with Schwartz in the lineup. When he sustained an ankle injury blocking a Mike Green shot Dec. 9, 2017 at Detroit, a 9-10-1 stretch followed. The Blues could never regain that high level of consistency again and finished 44-32-6.

Certain players can have a certain impact on their respective teams. Take Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh, Connor McDavid in Edmonton, Alex Ovechkin in Washington, Drew Doughty in Los Angeles, among others, and although it's always considered a team game, there are players around the league that have that kind of an impact on their lineups. Schwartz, 26, may not put up the kind of gaudy numbers some of those players do, but his presence on the ice for the Blues is invaluable.

"He's very underrated, but he's very dynamic," Blues center and new teammate Ryan O'Reilly said of Schwartz. "He's constantly creating. He's one of those guys that picks up the puck and he's going to do something with it. You don't know what, but he's going to do something. He's just that dangerous player and seeing him now more and more, what he does out there is impressive. It's a treat to see.

"You've got to be on your game defensively when you're playing against him. He puts you in uncomfortable spots. He just knows how to create. The speed and his edges, he's constantly moving, he's hard to check. It's nice to actually be on a team with him. His impact is massive."

And Schwartz's impact, when at the highest level, certainly rubs off on his teammates and it's hard not to try and mock his actions when they see him harassing and hounding the puck, creating turnovers and backchecking before coming to the bench for a breather and it's their turn to come over the boards and help the cause.

"I just try and play that way every game, and if I'm not paying like that, I don't think I'm very successful and I'm not helping the team as much as I can," Schwartz said. "It's the only way that I feel I can help the team and myself. If other guys see that and it helps them out, then that's good.

"I try to be more consistent with that. Just bring my game every night. I don't like when there's games that you don't play well, it sits (bad) in your stomach and it's not a good feeling, so I just try to leave it all out there as much as I can. Some nights it looks better than others, some nights the puck bounces your way more. I just try to bring that work ethic and move my feet and that's when good things happen."

There was an "uh-oh" moment for Schwartz again on the injury front; this time, at the World Championships in Denmark this past May, a tournament he was invited to play for Team Canada with the Blues missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

Schwartz sustained a right shoulder injury getting checked into the offensive zone corner boards, one that did not require surgery but needed time to heal, which the Blues had with their season and his tournament being over.

"I had a little time off and then a little longer offseason, longer than any of us would have liked," Schwartz said. "I took a little while. I took probably four weeks off after that injury and then just started doing a lot of rehab, saw some different people. This is my first shoulder injury and didn't really know much about it. Just kind of did exercise and everything. I didn't need surgery or anything, so mostly it was just rest and exercise and rehab and things like that. It's feeling pretty good now."

It's also feeling pretty good now that Schwartz is part of a team that revamped its roster with an infusion of forwards in O'Reilly (acquired through trade with the Buffalo Sabres), Tyler Bozak, David Perron and Pat Maroon (all signed as free agents), and Schwartz is feeling pretty good about the new additions.

"It was exciting getting a lot of good players in your lineup, a lot of big pieces that are going to help us moving forward," Schwartz said. "They're going to help us in a lot of different ways. It's centermen and right-handed shots, guys you can plug in on the power play, things that we needed help with. We're all pretty happy to see that and I was talking to guys and it's pretty mutual that everyone in here is pumped up with all the moves that we made."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) battles with Stars defenseman John
Klingberg for the puck Friday in preseason action. 

Gotta love a motivated Schwartz, because even an average Schwartz is good, but one that has extra mojo? Well, that bodes well for the Blues.

"It was frustrating last year obviously," Schwartz said. "I think the best thing you can do is learn from it. We were pretty disappointed with how things finished. We don't want to have that happen again. The fitness testing was a good start for us. You see how good shape guys are in and we start building now. I think chip on the shoulder is one way of putting it, but I think it just gets you excited for the season to get going again and put (last season) in the past. At the same time, you've got to learn from it and move from the frustrating times that you had. In the end, it can make you better if you learn from losing and you learn from going through spurts that we had that wasn't very fun. If you can take that forward into this year, I think that'll help us."

Schwartz sounds like he's ready to go to war, and if his teammates were wise, they'd back their ammunition and join him.

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