Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Schwartz won't let his size slow him down

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
The first thing you notice about center Jaden Schwartz is his deceptiveness.

But if you think for a second that at 5-foot-10 and180 pounds Schwartz doesn't pack much of a pop, you'd be sadly mistaken.

"I don't think Jaden has changed his style of play since he was 14, 15 years old," said NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee. "He's very deceptive and shifty though the neutral zone and strong on the puck. It's very hard to get the puck off his stick."

Schwartz doesn't look anything like a rookie in his initial season with the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League, and NHL scouts and general managers have noticed.

"I don't think size matters at all," Schwartz told NHL.com. "You look at players like (Martin) St. Louis and even (Sidney) Crosby, two of the best players in the world, and they aren't that big yet can get the job done. There's a lot more to it."

"Some people may look at his size and consider it an issue," Barzee said. "But I like to ask those same people, 'How big were Scott Gomez and Joe Sakic in their draft years?' Look how good they turned out."

And Schwartz is proving it. He's No. 2 on the Central Scouting's preliminary rankings of USHL players, and the only forward among the top seven players listed.

"It meant a lot to see my name so high on that list and I'm glad to be getting the recognition," Schwartz said. "I know it's only a ranking, but you can't help but read that list and no matter where you fall on it, you want to work even harder to improve and maybe climb the ladder."

Reports have been glowing ever since he broke scoring records held by Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards at Notre Dame Prep of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League with 39 goals and 111 points in 44 games in 2007-08.

Schwartz followed that with 34 goals and 76 points in 46 games as a rookie in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in 2008-09 before joining Tri-City and coach Drew Schoneck this season. That leads us to the second positive observation seen in Schwartz -- fearlessness.

"Jaden was obviously a highly-touted player coming out of the junior hockey league, but the thing that sets him apart from other skilled players is his fearlessness and the fact he'll go down to block shots or take a hit if it means making a play," Schoneck said. "He's a special kid in my eyes because he'll do the dirty work in addition to finishing around the net when given the chance."

"I've heard (Schoneck) say that (fearless) a few times about me, but when you watch the best players in the game, they're fearless too," Schwartz said. "I want to be that guy going into the corners and dropping to block shots when needed. Doing the dirty work helps your team win and that's what I'm set on doing."

Schwartz is Tri-City's top center this season and, at times, is flanked by Max Tardy (2009 seventh-round pick, St. Louis) and Radoslav Illo (2009 fifth-round, Anaheim).

"He makes all kinds of things happen around him," Barzee said of Schwartz. "He's playing on a team that isn't as gifted as he is, so there are nights people might ask why he was held scoreless, but he does so many other great little things. He gets the puck toward the goal and is able to get himself loose from defenders. He can strip people of the puck at both ends of the ice."

In today's ever-changing NHL, Schwartz could be a change-of-pace player general managers crave. In 16 games with Tri-City this season, he's posted a team-leading 13 assists and 21 points while logging over 28 minutes a game. He's even notched six multi-point games.

"The USHL is a very skilled league and the guys are very fast so there's not a lot of time and space out there," Schwartz said. "I know about the number of players moving on to successful college careers and being drafted out of the USHL and I'm just working hard to be a part of that as well."

Schwartz has committed to Colorado College for next season, but Schoneck has little doubt Schwartz one day will be playing in the NHL.

"He's our top pivot up front and will be one of guys we'll count on to carry the offense but it's been an adjustment," Schoneck said. "The USHL is faster and better, but he is solid on his skates and is a strong kid, so we know he'll figure it out quickly."

The one knock on Schwartz, according to some scouts, is his ability to break away from defenders in open ice. But there's little doubt playing with faster and more-skilled players in the USHL will only help improve that aspect of his game.

"I don't think Jaden has changed his style of play since he was 14, 15 years old. He's very deceptive and shifty though the neutral zone and strong on the puck. It's very hard to get the puck off his stick." -- Jack Barzee, NHL Central Scouting

"I'd like to improve my play on the defensive side of the puck, as well as my strength and foot speed," Schwartz said.

He has this season to do it before he joins his brother, Rylan, at Colorado. As a freshman for nationally-ranked Colorado, Rylan, who topped the SJHL with 39 goals and 88 points last season, has 4 goals and 13 points in 12 games.

"I learned a lot from my brother just by watching the way he worked in the weight room and the dedication he put into it," Schwartz said. "He's a pretty humble guy like myself and doesn't get too overwhelmed or caught up in the moment -- things I think I've taken and have helped me. It's really great to see the start he's had at Colorado."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com

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