Hitchcock attributes Stewart’s down year to lack of fitness

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One of the big mysteries out of St. Louis this year was the poor play of Chris Stewart.

The 24-year-old saw his offensive production plummet and ended up a healthy scratch twice in the postseason, a stunning development from a guy that was — as recently as last season — considered one of the league’s best young power forwards.

Now, we’re starting to learn more about Stewart’s struggles.

Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock spoke with Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Stewart’s major issue this year — a lack of fitness.

“He’s got to play with a high level of physicality for seven months, nine months. That’s a long time,” Hitchcock explained. “You can’t do it unless you’re in optimum shape. His season was a roller-coaster. He was up, he was down, he was up, he was down.

“In order to play the type of game he needs to play, it requires an unbelievable level of fitness. It’s not a game of skill. It’s a game of grit and skill. In order to play that game, you’ve got to be in unbelievable shape. Otherwise, you break down.”

One wonders if this is related to Stewart’s playing weight. He’s listed at 232 pounds — the heaviest player on St. Louis roster — and stands 6-foot-2, which is a pretty solid frame.

(I’m not saying this is the case, because some guys play better when they’re heavier. But it’s definitely worth mentioning.)

Regardless, Stewart has made amends for his down year by joining Team Biosteel, a professional sports training and nutrition group that counts Boston’s Tyler Seguin and Montreal’s Carey Price among its clients.

Stewart’s new dedication to fitness has already impressed Hitchcock.

“Stewy’s figured out that he wants to have a long career,” he said. “It’s not like he’s suddenly found a trainer. What he’s found is that he can only get so far himself doing the training.

“Now he’s got somebody pushing him really hard everyday. I’m really proud of him.”