ST. LOUIS — With Jaden Schwartz, you see these glimpses. These snapshots of the future.
Schwartz, the St. Louis Blues’ 21-year-old left wing, provided one such glimpse Saturday night at Tampa Bay. Two minutes after the Lightning took a 2-1 lead in the second period, Schwartz outmuscled defenseman Matthew Carle to center ice and let go one of his patented wrist shots, beating goaltender Ben Bishop for his third goal of the season.
After scoring only seven goals and six assists in 48 games with the Blues last season, Schwartz is off to a much stronger start this year. He has four assists to go with those three goals in the Blues’ first 13 games.
“I just like his competitive nature,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong says. “He’s tenacious on the puck. He’s a little roadrunner … his legs, his speed really catch your eye. He’s one of those players that is a step ahead of the game.”
These were among the traits that caught the Blues’ attention when they made him the 14th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
“Our scouting staff really believed that he’s a top five or six talent in this year’s draft,” Armstrong said at the time. “He’s got power. He can play a man’s game and play in the hard areas of the ice.”
Armstrong remembers that draft, and remembers waiting with bated breath until the Blues’ pick arrived.
“We were worried,” he says. “I remember telling someone, it was right in that area on the draft boards, the tendency of the league is to draft bigger players, so we dodged a bullet there.”
At 5 feet 10, 190 pounds, Schwartz was not one of those bigger players.
“I don’t think size matters at all,” Schwartz says. “You look at players like Martin St. Louis and even Sidney Crosby, two of the best players in the world, and they aren’t that big yet can get the job done. There’s a lot more to it.
“Growing up as a little guy, watching my (older) brother (Rylan, who plays for the San Jose Sharks) and (older) sister (Mandi) play hockey kind of got me into it more than anything. My dad made an outdoor rink every year, so when they were out playing, I went to join them. They were big role models for me.”
By the time the Blues drafted him, he was indeed a step ahead of everybody else his age.
“With Jaden, you could tell he was beyond his years,” Armstrong says. “He was like a 28-year-old. You’d send him home … and you knew he was going to come back in better shape than when he left.”
Schwartz played in seven games for the Blues in the 2011-12 season, spending most of that year with Colorado College and Canada’s World Junior Championship team. His performance for Team Canada caught the eye of Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who saw distinct similarities with Zach Parise, a former captain of the New Jersey Devils now with Minnesota.
“He’s got the same characteristics to his game as Zach,” Hitchcock says. “He was just on the puck, on the puck, on the puck every game. I saw that and I thought that’s the type of player that he’s going to become. He’s going to become one of those guys that is dogged, determined, has skill to finish, but the strength of his game is going to be his dogged determination to do things right.”
Schwartz has dedicated his life to his sister, who played ice hockey at Yale but was diagnosed with leukemia in her junior year. Her search for a bone marrow or stem cell transplant inspired thousands of people to volunteer to be bone marrow donors, but she died April 3, 2011, at the age of 23.
Schwartz could see the impact his sister had on everything she touched.
“She was everything to me,” Schwartz said at the time. “She was a huge inspiration in every aspect of life, whether it was hockey or the way she treated people. She kind of touched everybody, especially when she got sick; she never complained about a thing and kept fighting. She kept believing and, every chance she’d get, she’d go for a workout or skate despite being sick — it was awesome.”
You can email Larry Wigge at email@example.com.