Jaden Schwartz (Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images)
After 49 games on the shelf with a fractured ankle, Jaden Schwartz is expected to be back Friday against the Florida Panthers. Schwartz, 23, has 53 goals over the past two seasons and could be back just in time to helping a struggling St. Louis offense.
The St. Louis Blues offense has been below average this season, but it’s hard to blame coach Ken Hitchcock’s group. The Blues have rarely had their full lineup in tact, and one of the players the Blues were hoping for a big season from, Jaden Schwartz, has been on the shelf since fracturing his ankle in practice in late-October.
And while every bit of injury news concerning the Blues has been of the unfortunate variety this season, St. Louis may finally have something to be hopeful about: Schwartz is back.
The Blues announced Wednesday that Schwartz has been activated off the injured reserve after missing the past 49 games due to the ankle injury, and he’s set to get back into the lineup Friday evening against the Florida Panthers.
“It will almost feel like a new season for me,” Schwartz told StLouisBlues.com’s Chris Pinkert. “I’ve been out for so long. It will take me a few shifts to get up to speed and calm down a little bit. It’ll be a new experience for me with only 27 games left to jump in. Hopefully it doesn’t take too long to get up to speed and I’m just hoping I feel comfortable doing everything on the ice.”
Hitchcock said Schwartz’s return doesn’t mean he’ll hop right into the lineup and be playing like the near 30-goal scorer he has been over the past two seasons. The expectation, Hitchcock said, is that it will take at least five or six games before Schwartz is making the offensive impact the Blues expect of him.
"He's going to have his hands full just keeping up,” Hitchcock said. “The first two or three games, he's mostly going to see 5-on-5 play. When he's up to speed, he brings instant quick offense that's hard to find.”
There’s little doubt that Hitchcock’s correct in his assessment that Schwartz will need some time to get his feet back under him, but once he gets back up to speed, the 23-year-old can bring a new dynamic to a struggling offense. In seven games prior to his injury, Schwartz had notched only four assists while averaging more than 17 minutes of work per night, but his point totals over the past two seasons highlight the type of punch Schwartz can provide.
In the two seasons prior to 2015-16, Schwartz scored 25 and 28 goals and totalled 119 points. At 5-on-5, he maintained a pace of 2.22 points per 60 minutes of ice time, which is the 23rd-highest total of the 534 players to skate at least 1,000 minutes over the past two seasons.
Schwartz won’t be lacking for linemates to help him get his feet under him, either, if Tuesday’s line combinations are any indication of what the Blues will use Friday. Schwartz was skating on the left wing with Jori Lehtera down the middle and Vladimir Tarasenko on the right side. That line combination could work twofold, as Tarasenko, who was on a tear earlier in the season and looked to be a lock to finish top 10 in scoring, has only registered a two goals and three points in his past 10 games.
Friday’s game won’t be an easy first test for the Blues offense with a returning Schwartz, though. The Panthers have the third-stingiest defense in the entire NHL, allowing only 123 goals this season. It’ll be a difficult first test for Schwartz, but if he can start to get his feet under him sooner rather than later, it could be a positive sign for a Blues team that needs to start finding offense as the post-season nears.