One of the busier teams this summer, the St. Louis Blues are all in on an attempt to be Stanley Cup Champions in 2018-19. A team boasting depth, you’ll find the likes of Alexander Steen on the third line and Jay Bouwmeester as a third pairing defenseman potentially. This team has no excuse to not be one of the better performing franchises. Much of the discussion about them will revolve around the addition of shiny new toys in Ryan O’Reilly (ROR), St. Louis native Patrick Maroon, and the return of David Perron once again. Yes, the players who’ve been there will come up as well, surely sniper extraordinaire Vladimir Tarasenko, and physical Brayden Schenn. The funny thing is that this team’s arguably best player is oft in the shadows, with injuries having much to do with this. Jaden Schwartz, the unheralded star of the top line, needs his recognition too. Though he’s becoming the Kris Letang of forwards, his 35 points in the first 30 games he played better have put everyone on notice to how great a player he is. If you have not drafted for your league(s) yet, this is one player with injury concern absolutely worth taking the chance on based on ADP.
Let’s just get the ugly part out of the way first and foremost. If you select Schwartz in your draft(s) you need to have a contingency plan in place for when he inevitably goes down. 2013-14 was the last time he cracked 80 games in a campaign and although he had two 70-plus contest seasons sprinkled in since then, one has to surmise he will find himself on the IR. Regardless, last year on a bolstered St. Louis Blues squad, Schwartz took a step forward offensively on a line with Schenn and Tarasenko, amounting to a 0.95 pts/gm in 62 outings. Only tapering off statistically in the third quarter, the 52 points in the 50 games that compromise quarters one, two, and four need to have him way higher in all rankings. Now in 2018-19, this team is arguably even deeper, making for good chances of another strong outing for the Wilcox native. Yet every mock draft I partake in, I am grabbing him way down the board and laughing to myself. I also do this when selecting Kyle Palmieri late, draft him too folks. Schwartz ice time has been on the rise every year since 2015-16, with him also seeing over three minutes of power play time on average last year. There is a risk he is split from one of Tarasenko and Schenn this time around with O’Reilly now in the fold, but Schwartz can thrive regardless of deployment. Arguably on that line last season, he, not Tarasenko, was the straw that stirred the drink.
Looking to advanced statistics, there’s lots to love about the 26-year old. Looking to the player usage chart, you have to love Schwartz’s location on the far right with his two line mates well spread from essentially the rest of the team. Starting shifts 66% of the time in the offensive zone certainly explains the location, with it translating to a 2.9 pts/60. Schwartz is impressive in possession metrics, boasting a strong 57% Corsi. In a nutshell, when his line is on the ice they are extreme puck hogs. We can talk stats all day but what I am driving at here with all this is do not let him fall to another owner in drafts. Last campaign was star production minus the injury period, whether a band-aid boy or not, that is worth a flyer in rounds 8-10 of a 12-team draft. 48 of his 59 points were at even strength, ever important that he is not reliant upon man advantage scenarios. You want premier offensive production a little later so you can get the stud goaltender and one of the elite trio of defenders earlier, this is your guy.
Any fear of production rate falling off is nullified by his remarkably consistent 5-on-5 shooting percentage. Since 2014-15, his percentage has varied only in the range of 8.26-8.92%. If we go back to 2012-13, it only peaked above 10% once. I preach consistency in players that need to be coveted more, such as Derek Stepan, who although not the sexiest pick, make smart selections in the later rounds. I’ve said it before, I will always want a team of consistent guaranteed 50-point players over one based off high ceiling potential. Depth wins titles more so than your core you build early on.
I’ll be honest and say that if the arrivals of ROR and Perron break up what was a terrific line last season, I’d be disappointed. Their blend of styles is seemingly hard to match especially since no line mate they give Schwartz could match Tarasenko and Schenn overall. Perron is no slouch with 50 apples last season but still not at the level of the aforementioned. Even so, before Schenn, Schwartz and the Russian sniper had the pleasure of dragging Jori Lehtera’s corpse on the ice. Even with this subpar running mate, he still puts up the points. In my opinion, Schwartz is in his own right a good enough player to drive the play even over the likes of players we consider stars.
In closing, there are many ways one can approach drafts this year with the wealth of offensive options as we see younger and younger kids break into the league and stay put. You can confidently draft goalies and elite defenders with your first picks only to be shored up with smart picks of discounted players like Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde and Mr. Schwartz later. Invest in high powered offenses the likes of the Winnipeg Jets, Boston Bruins, and Tampa Bay Lightning, letting other owners pay the premium price on top line options while sitting back for that discounted second line player. Target the likes of Schwartz in Round 9/10 for a 12-team league. More than worth the injury potential, his ability to provide top rate offense is worth the gamble which we all need to take at least once.
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