As a team that’s been built largely off of savvy moves rather than lottery picks,* the St. Louis Blues can point to quite a few pivotal moments that got them here. Most recently, you’d note changing to coach Craig Berube, and being wise enough to let Jordan Binnington run with his hot start.
But don’t sleep on June 25, 2010.
On that day, the Blues had picks 14 and 16 in the 2010 NHL Draft. You might say that moments like these often separate the smart teams from the slow, or at least the average. This is the part of the first round where you don’t usually have the luxury of making “no-brainer” picks.
While other teams whiffed with picks like Dylan McIlrath (Rangers, 10th), Jack Campbell (Stars, 11th), and Brandon Gormley (Coyotes, 13th), the Blues chose Jaden Schwartz with the 14th pick, and Vladimir Tarasenko at 16.
* – Alex Pietrangelo at fourth overall in 2008 being a rare exception.
Tarasenko, aka “Tank,” has been one of the most insatiable snipers in the NHL. He’s the headline-grabber, yet if you’re a fan looking for a Blues player to root for, Schwartz should hover toward the top of the list. With that in mind, his red-hot recent work during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been a pleasure to watch.
When you look at Schwartz’s playoff totals, they’re already impressive: six goals and two assists for eight points in nine games. He’s been especially hot lately, though, generating all six of those goals and one assist over the last five games, only failing to score a point once during that stretch.
Things really revved up late in Round 1 against the Winnipeg Jets.
Schwartz scored the game-winner with just 15 seconds remaining in Game 5, capping a rally that the Jets arguably never recovered from. Then again, maybe the Jets simply couldn’t slow Schwartz down; the 26-year-old scored all three of the Blues’ goals in a 3-2 Game 6 win to eliminate Winnipeg.
Really, Game 1 of Round 2 against the Stars was the only time Schwartz really relented, and his 2010 draft buddy Tarasenko took over that one. Schwartz scored a goal in the Blues’ Game 2 loss, and was a big part of St. Louis building its current 2-1 series lead by scoring a goal and an assist to help the Blues win Game 3. Simply put, Schwartz is one of the hottest players in the NHL right now.
[Game 4 of Stars – Blues airs at 9:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday on NBCSN (Stream here)]
Considering how stout the Stars have been for much of this postseason, it’s fair to wonder how different Game 3 might have gone for the Blues if Schwartz didn’t gift them with a 1-0 lead just 1:27 into the first period.
Schwartz has done more than scoring, too. Schwartz has been a strong possession-driver for much of his career, and that’s been especially clear during the postseason, as he’s close to 60 percent by both Corsi and Fenwick at even-strength via Natural Stat Trick, while being on the ice for nine goals for and three goals against.
No doubt about it, some of that is luck … but again, luck hasn’t always been on Schwartz’s side.
Sports Forecaster’s rundown of Schwartz’s injury history is a sobering read. Early on in his career, he missed significant time with a broken foot, and then a fractured left ankle. He was limited to 69 regular-season games in 2018-19, 62 in 2017-18, and just 33 games in 2015-16. Along the way, people (such as former coach Mike Yeo) were saddened by the thought that Schwartz had “put himself on the map” only to suffer injury setbacks.
[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
To some, Schwartz’s injury list boils down, in part, to playing a very aggressive, hard-working style. To his credit (yet also with increased pain), Schwartz stayed true to his style, as he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Tom Timmermann back in October.
“I don’t like to think too much when I’m playing,” Schwartz said. “I don’t like to be safe. I like to be aggressive. Going into the dirty areas and working, if you’re thinking about things like that, you’re not going to be effective, so that doesn’t bother me during the game.”
It’s unlikely that you’d catch Jaden Schwartz lingering on his own health issues for very long, though, considering the tragic death of his sister Mandi. Jaden switched his jersey number from 9 to 17 to honor Mandi, who passed away on April 3, 2011 at the age of 23.
Jaden wearing 17 isn’t the only way the hockey world continues to honor Mandi’s memory, as the ECAC renamed its student athlete of the year award after Mandi, and Yale hosted bone marrow drives in her name.
So, yes, there are a lot of off-the-ice reasons to feel good for Jaden Schwartz, yet if such thoughts are a little too deep for your hockey viewing, it’s also just a lot of fun to watch him play.
We’ll see if Schwartz and the Blues can keep things going against the Stars in Game 4 on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream), but it’s been a delight to see this hot streak, and it might be the breakthrough some needed to realize that Schwartz has been a very good player for some time.
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.