ST. LOUIS — David Backes had a friendly warning for Jaden Schwartz last week.
As the St. Louis Blues’ captain was leaving the locker room on Thursday, following the Blues’ 6-3 win against the visiting Maple Leafs, Backes told Schwartz that he just called the youngster “short and stout” when being questioned by reporters.
That’s OK. Schwartz has certainly heard it all before.
The youngest player on the St. Louis roster at 21 years old, Schwartz knows he’s not built like some of his teammates. At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, he more closely resembles a goalie than some of the big and bruising power forwards in the NHL.
But that’s also one of the attributes that makes him special.
Schwartz knows he has to work hard every shift and he does just that every time out. That’s why the left winger has won over his coach, his teammates and fans and become a valuable contributor on one of the best teams in the NHL in just his second full season.
“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 this season,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He’s a great 200-foot player and 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. He doesn’t get near enough credit for being such a great penalty killer.”
Going into Monday’s game at Ottawa, Schwartz was tied for fourth on the team in goals (8), tied for fifth in assists (14) and sixth in points (22). His plus-13 is tied with Alexander Steen for second-best on the Blues behind Jay Bouwmeester (plus-14).
In his first 31 games this season, he had already surpassed his performance from his 51 combined games the previous two seasons when he recorded nine goals and seven assists for 16 points.
Schwartz’s three points in the win against the Maple Leafs on Thursday, which earned him the No. 1 star, capped off a stretch of 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 11 games.
“I think that’s 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. So I try to move my feet and work as hard as I can when I’m out there. I like playing with the linemates that I’m with for sure and I’m getting good opportunities. When you’re playing more and touching the puck you’re going to get a little more confidence as you go and I feel like that’s playing a big part.”
Teammates have also noticed the Saskatchewan native’s growing confidence. The Toronto game was just the 82nd of his NHL career.
“I think he’s finally feeling confident and comfortable in his role and a guy that’s got as good a shot as anyone and 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,” Backes said.
Schwartz and center Vladimir Sobotka, similarly sized at 5-10 and 197 pounds, have been a productive pair that has contributed more than stats can accurately measure.
Whoever they have been paired with — Vladimir Tarasenko or Chris Stewart or whomever Hitchcock can come up with — has seemed to benefit from the duo’s hard work and tenacity.
“They set the tone a lot of the time with hard work and if you’re right next to them not trying to keep up with them or trying to have that same level, it’s going to be pretty obvious,” Backes said. “I think that’s kind of what drags guys in. When you’re playing with two guys working their butts off you can be pretty successful if you get three.”
Schwartz said he and Sobotka share a lot of qualities.
“I think he’s a very, very hard worker,” Schwartz said. “When he gets the puck he’s going to make a strong play. When the play’s there to make a pass or shot, he’s usually going to make the right one. So he’s a smart player that works extremely hard and he’s good in all three zones, which is key for us.”
Schwartz described Sobotka as a guy that other players look up to, who is hard to play against, is good on face-offs and is fun to watch.
“I think last year we played a couple games together but we never really stuck together,” Schwartz said. “I was excited to play with him. We’re both guys who like to put our work boots on every shift. He creates a lot because of that. He creates a lot with his speed and his tenacity and that’s something I try to do as well. We feed off each other pretty well.”
And the Blues, in turn, have fed off of Schwartz and Sobotka.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.