When the 2017-18 season began the St. Louis Blues looked like a team that was going to be in some trouble for no other reason than a significant chunk of their lineup was hammered by injuries. They lost Robby Fabbri for the season before it even began, while players like Alexander Steen, Patrik Berglund, Jay Bouwmeester have all missed significant time. Being without that many key players can be a significant blow to a team’s depth and could quickly put a team in an early season hole.
Could being the key word.
That has not been the case for the Blues, however, is they enter the weekend with a 10-3-1 record that is the second-best mark in the league. They are a top-10 team in goals scored and goals against, they have been a strong 5-on-5 team and other than some goaltending that might see a little bit of a regression in the coming weeks and months there is not much to indicate that this start is unsustainable. They have simply been a really, really, really good hockey team even without some key players.
Working in their favor is the fact they still have one of the top-10 players in the league in Vladimir Tarasenko. With a point-per-game average through the first month of the season he is doing what should be expected.
The player that is driving the bus for the Blues to this point, however, has been forward Jaden Schwartz.
As of Friday Schwartz was not only the leading scorer on the Blues with eight goals and 17 points, he is also one of the top scorers in the league. He has recorded at least point in 11 of his first 14 games and has been the most consistent player in the lineup … at both ends of the ice.
Part of Schwartz’s success this season is due to a pretty large jump in his shooting percentage (currently at 25 percent), but even if that regresses a bit the way he is playing is still going to produce some pretty strong results that are, at worst, right in line with what he has done throughout his career.
Playing on a team that has Tarasenko it can be easy for a player like Schwartz to get kind of lost in the shuffle a little bit and perhaps not get the respect he deserves. When you look at Schwartz’s career he has been an outstanding top-line player for several years now, averaging between 50 and 60 points per 82 games while consistently posting possession numbers better than 53 percent.
It would be easy to call Schwartz underrated, but his Blues teammates really don’t want to hear that word connected to him.
Here is Tarasenko talking about it, via Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Maybe for you it doesn’t seem like this,” said Tarasenko, sticking up for his teammate. “‘Schwartzy’ has always been a great player. We all know this, and whenever guys say something about him, that’s their own opinion. Let them talk.
This is all great timing for the Blues.
First, Schwartz is at a point in his career where he should be at his statistical peak as a point producer. Historically forwards tend to produce their best numbers between the ages of 23 and 26 (Schwartz is 25 this season). The Blues were able to get him locked up to a long-term contract right at the beginning of that phase, and it is going to make him what should be a bargain under the salary cap.
It’s also important for the Blues if he can maintain this sort of a pace because it would give them another elite scoring option to complement Tarasenko. It’s not just about Schwartz helping to pick up the slack to help make up for the early injuries.
Over the past two seasons the Blues have not had another forward that has finished within 20 points of Tarasenko. There is a pretty significant gap between him and the rest of the team, and while the Blues have always had a pretty deep, solid roster, having another elite scorer can be the difference between a deep postseason run and just another playoff team that gets bounced in the first-or second-round.