Schwartz Plays Big Despite Small Stature
ST. LOUIS -- The NHL has developed a reputation as being a big man's league, and not just in the sense of its players' physical frames but by their backing it up with big play on the ice.
For St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz, being told he's too small is nothing new.
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Schwartz may be smaller in stature, but he's not afraid to play a big man's game, as Blues coach Ken Hitchcock likes to say.
Schwartz, who played at Colorado College for two seasons, has burst onto the scene for the Blues this season, particularly at the offensive end. Taken by the Blues with the 14th pick at the 2010 NHL Draft, Schwartz has eight goals and 14 assists through 31 games this season, his first full one in the NHL.
Twelve of Schwartz's 22 points have come in his past 12 games, which included a personal-best seven-game point streak. He has a pair of three-point games this season, including Dec. 12 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Schwartz's style of play could be compared to a construction worker: Grab the lunch pail, throw on the hard hat, lace up the steel-toe boots and get to work. He seems to go against the odds on a nightly basis.
"He's finally feeling confident and comfortable in his role," Blues captain David Backes said of Schwartz. "A guy that's got as good a shot as anyone, works his butt off, and as short and stout as he is, he goes up there against the biggest guys and comes out of the corners with pucks. It's inspiring the way those guys play against really anyone in the League and come up with an advantage."
Schwartz, who was scratched against the Ottawa Senators on Monday, a 3-2 overtime loss, with an undisclosed injury, has come a long way on the ice since he was drafted. He takes a simple approach into each game.
"Just being consistent, being focused and energized each game," Schwartz said. "When you're watching and hoping, that's when things aren't going to go well. I'm trying to move my feet and work as hard as I can when I'm out there. I like playing with the linemates I'm out there with for sure. I get a good opportunity, so I think when you're playing more and touching the puck you're going to get a little more confidence as you go. I feel like that's playing a big part."
There's nothing fancy about the way Schwartz likes to play. Hard, tenacious and relentless on the puck are a few ways to describe his play. No shortcuts and no cutting corners. It's the only way he knows; it's how he was taught to play.
"I knew when I came into the NHL there was a lot of skilled players, guys who were bigger than me," Schwartz said. "So I knew that I had to do something that was going to make me productive and make me produce, and I think I can do that with my hard work.
"I've watched players that are older than me who work hard and they've got really good tenacity on the puck and they're good in all zones. When I came in, I definitely wanted to put a stamp on me that I'm going to work hard every night."
Hitchcock compares Schwartz to Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise, and he's paired Schwartz with another lunch-pail worker in Vladimir Sobotka. Like Schwartz, Sobotka is smaller in frame (5-10, 197) but plays a big, heavy game.
"He's just a good player," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "He's got confidence; he's strong on the puck. … [Schwartz] doesn't get near enough credit for being such a great penalty killer. I can't remember the last time those two guys [Schwartz and Sobotka] got scored on killing penalties. They do a great job together. They really love playing with each other."
Chris Stewart, who was slow out of the gates offensively this season, has picked up his game in recent weeks. Playing with Schwartz and Sobotka has seemed to energize him.
"If I was a player on that line, I would really want to put my best foot forward, because the longer you stay there, the more productive you're going to be," Hitchcock said. "Stewart's [been] really good down low in the zone. He protected the puck well. He showed great patience in the offensive zone. I thought that line's [been] excellent."
Stewart, who has two goals, an assist and a plus-4 rating playing with Schwartz and Sobotka their past two games together, appreciates his linemates' workman-like attitude.
"Height is not just everything," the 6-foot-2, 231-pound Stewart said. "They're not the tallest guys, but they're thick boys. They compete on the puck. They definitely play bigger than their size.
"(If) I'm going to be the big guy on the line, I'm just going to try to create as much space for them as possible and get in the corners and bang some bodies and get to some loose pucks."
Sobotka said he sees a mirror image when looking at Schwartz.
"I think he's kind of like me, but he's way more offensive," Sobotka said. "He's got a great shot. He can pass too. He works really hard in the corners.
"I think we have good chemistry together and [the] most important thing, we're winning battles. … When he's got the puck, I'm just trying to drive the net and find the loose pucks. We read off each other and we know what we can expect from each other. If we don't have a play, we just chip it in and go win the battle in the corner. We try and go hard every shift, trying to get energy up for other guys and win battles and just play hard."
"We're both guys who like to put our work boots on every shift," Schwartz said.
Schwartz's 22 points are tied for sixth on the team; he's one of eight Blues players with at least 20 points, making him a nice part of a balanced scoring attack. But the 21-year-old continues to accumulate more and more responsibility as Hitchcock has grown comfortable using him in all situations, including special teams.
"I think it's a reflection of what happened to us in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs against [the Los Angeles Kings last season]," Hitchcock said. "I think this is the evolution of a really good player. But the confidence for me came in the Los Angeles series, and he's just carried it into the season.
"He's a great 200-foot player. I think if you have enough of those guys, that's what wins you championships. He's going to be a good player on this team for a long time."