Jaden Schwartz is back, and that’s a good thing for the Blues

With Jaden Schwartz back in the lineup, the St. Louis Blues should see a huge rise in their offensive production.

Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

After playing just seven games at the start of the season, St. Louis Blues forward Jaden Schwartz would find himself on the injured reserve list.

The 23-year-old was injured on Oct. 23 after colliding with the net during practice. Schwartz suffered a fractured ankle.

"I knew it was pretty serious," Schwartz told St. Louis Blues writer Chris Pinkert. "It was the most painful injury I’ve ever had. I was coming down the right side on (Brian Elliott), took a shot far pad and reached out for the rebound. I lost an edge, went flying into the net and I fell right past ‘Moose’ (Elliott’s nickname) and my ankle got caught in the mesh outside the net. My body was going one way, my ankle got caught and right at that time, I knew it was pretty serious."

The injury would knock Schwartz out of 49 games. After surgery, Schwartz was given a 12-week recovery prognosis, as he not only had to wait for the fracture to heal, but he also had to work out the stiffness and readjust his conditioning.

That 49-game absence really put a damper on the Blues, who haven’t been able to field a completely healthy team at all this year. But having Schwartz out of the lineup was particularly difficult for St. Louis, because he plays such a large role for the team.

Schwartz quickly proved his worth to the Blues in his very first game since the injury against the Florida Panthers. In his 13:31 minutes of ice time, Schwartz scored his first goal on the year and added an assist as he and the Blues powered through one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams in a 5-3 win.

"It felt pretty good," Schwartz said following the game. "(I) try not to think about (my injury) too much and just go out there and play. Moved my feet early, checked into the game as quickly as I could. Adrenaline was going too. Overall, it felt better than I thought it would."

Schwartz has immediately been penciled in as St. Louis’ second-line wing, joining Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko to reunite the Blues’ "STL" line that played so well together just last season. According to Puckalytics, the trio played 520:26 minutes of 5-v-5 time together last year. They produced 32 goals, essentially producing 3.62 goals for every 60 minutes they played together, and they generated 57.69 shot attempts every 60 minutes they played together. And, during their entire time together, they only allowed 18 goals against them.

Jaden Schwartz had watched a lot of games from the Blues’ press box this year, and was certainly itching to get back on the ice.

That outstanding offensive production gave Blues general manager Doug Armstrong the confidence to call this group a key part of his two different cores in St. Louis. In a conversation with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman this past offseason, Armstrong hinted that his Blues essentially had two cores: One that had maintained a strong presence in St. Louis for the past several seasons, and one that was slowly beginning to emerge and would require more ice time. The newer, younger core consisted of Schwartz, Lehtera, Tarasenko and Dmitrij Jaskin. And that young core performed so well in the 2014-15 season that it gave Armstrong the confidence to break up his older core to better St. Louis’ future, and that’s why he sent T.J. Oshie, a member of that older core, to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Troy Brouwer, goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley and a 2016 third-round pick.

And how could he not be confident in that newer core? Tarasenko finished with 37 goals, good for the fifth-most in the NHL. Lehtera recorded 44 points in his first NHL season. And Schwartz himself added 63 points in 75 games, making him the 35th-highest scorer in the NHL at just 22.

"Another weapon in the arsenal," Blues captain David Backes said of Schwartz. "A guy that brings us a ton of energy, relentless on the forecheck, hounds the puck and creates a lot of o-zone time for us. That’s what we are looking for: To re-establish our game in the offensive zone, to score a lot more goals and he’ll be a contributing factor in that along with everyone else picking their games up."

"He’s a thick body out there," Elliott said following Schwartz’s first game back. "He can get into those places. He’s quick, but he can handle all of the contact."

"He’s a big piece to our puzzle," Elliott added.

That collective St. Louis puzzle has missed several pieces all throughout the year. Schwartz was out for a long period of time. Patrik Berglund wasn’t available to play until early January after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk missed time with a groin injury. Steve Ott has been sidelined since early December with a hamstring injury. Alex Pietrangelo has missed the last three games (and was originally projected to be out for three weeks on Feb. 8) due to a knee injury, and goaltender Jake Allen has been out since Jan. 8 with a knee injury of his own. The Blues are itching to get all of those pieces together so they can figure out just how good of a team they truly have.

But, for now, the Blues are extremely happy to get Schwartz back. In his nine total games this season, Schwartz has a goal and five assists. But as his ice time grows more and more with each game, his offensive opportunities will continue to rise higher and higher. And as the "STL" line begins to regain that chemistry, Schwartz will continue to prove why the Blues are one of the top teams in the NHL.

Tommy Chalk writes about the NHL for FOX Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @Tommy_Chalk