Don’t give him Schwartz shrift

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photo via Sporting News

The St. Louis Blues, as of this writing, are not good.  They are third to last in points, bottom-third in possession stats, and second to last in percentage of goals for.  It is a Bad Situation.

This was not supposed to happen, for a variety of reasons.  The team traded for Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron in the offseason, signed competent center Tyler Bozak, and promoted superprospect Robert Thomas.  The implosion meant a second straight season of firing the coach — this time, Mike Yeo.  While it is little consolation to fans of the team, some players continue to perform well despite all this decline.  One of them is 26 year old left winger Jaden Schwartz.

Over his eight NHL seasons, Schwartz has put up a 58 point per 82 game rate.  Over the years of his career, among Blues who have played more than 200 games, Schwartz has the highest shooting percentage at 13.2%  Over his career, he’s put up 3/4 of a hit, 1/2 a block, and over two shots per game.  His respect in the league exceeds his box score accomplishments.  In 2018, his fellow players voted him the second most underrated player in the NHL, placing behind only Stanley Cup Champion Nicklas Backstrom.

Arguably the reason Schwartz’s production has not matched his reputation during these prime years Schwartz’s season has been a tough run of injuries.

Year Age Games Played Games Missed Injury
2012-13 20 45 3 *season was only 48 games
2013-14 21 80 2  
2014-15 22 75 7  
2015-16 23 33 49 Back injury/broken ankle
2016-17 24 78 4  
2017-18 25 62 20 Mike Green shot off the ankle
2018-19 26 21 13 Blocked shot with hand

Schwartz’s setback this season has not stopped him from putting up career-average scoring rates, even on a slumping team.  He has three goals and 11 assists across his 21 games.  In his first six games after returning from injury, he has put up a goal and four assists.

What Schwartz has done with his deployment is promising.  At even strength this season, Schwartz has had a team-high 52.67% Corsi For with 57.69% offensive zone deployment.  He’s the rare Blue who has been on the ice for good things.  St Louis goalies have a .907 Sv% with Schwartz, and Schwartz has a 1.015 PDO.  Compare that to .867 Sv% and .939 PDO for Vlad Tarasenko.  The slumping Brayden Schenn has been his most frequent 5×5 collaborator followed by Tarasenko.  Since he has returned from injury, however, Perron has skated with Schwartz in Tarasenko’s stead.

You can’t blame Craig Berube for shaking up lines given the Blues’ injuries and underperformance.  It’s a shame, though, the Schenn/Tarasenko/Schwartz line is not skating together this year.    Among the 44 line combos skating at least 300 minutes on 5×5 in 17-18, this line was 2nd in Corsi% (59.47%) with three quarters of their offense/defense starts in the O-Zone.  That line scored 1.42 goals per 60 minutes, 11th in the NHL.  Tarasenko’s numbers throughout his career have been better together on the ice with Schwartz than not.

Some indicators show Schwartz has room for better performance in the second half.  He has faced the toughest quality of competition of any member of the team, which may or may not persist depending on the continued struggle to set lines. His 5.4 Sh% has been brutal compared to that 13.2% career mark and it would be reasonable to expect a second-half uptick in goals.

Overall: Schwartz is a very talented and respected player surrounded by uncertainty.  While a year ago Schwartz seemed locked into one of the league’s best lines when healthy, now fantasy players have to be concerned what the Blues will look like if they choose to move players to rebuild for the future, to include whether Schwartz himself could be traded.

Schwartz is an asset with upside who I would roster in redraft as a LW2 in a 16 team league (or LW3 in a 12-man).  If he stays healthy I expect he’ll increase production of the second half of this year while posting reasonable peripherals.  While 26 is not young for a dynasty league, I’d expect Schwartz will have an excellent season or two before he begins his decline.  Bump him down half a round for buying him at 26.  In the current offensive environment, a peak season of 70 points still seems very possible.  If you are investing, however, be sure your league settings and team build have an IR slot available should another injury happen.

(stats in this article derived from Naturalstattrick.com, shiftchart.com, hockey-reference.com and corsica.hockey.

 

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