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|2 мая 2013 года.|
Schwartz has emerged from Tarasenko's shadow // St. Louis Post - Dispatch
O'Neill, DanView Profile.
Almost four months have passed since the first puck dropped on this season. How much can change in that short amount of time?
The Blues carried two prominent rookies into this season. They were both No. 1 draft picks from 2010, but their press kits were dramatically different.
Vladimir Tarasenko possessed a lyrical name and an exciting aura. Generated by his history in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, his arrival came with high-octane expectations. He had played with NHL players, in a man's league, it was said. He had the tools to be a top-six forward, it was said.
He received a three-year, $5.25 million contract and the paperwork was filed under "Sure Thing."
When Tarasenko scored two goals in an opening-night beatdown of Detroit, the hype escalated. The precocious kid had five goals and 10 points in the initial eight games. He played alongside two of the Blues' best, Alexander Steen and Andy McDonald. He was all that and a bag of pucks.
Jaden Schwartz was on the other side of the dressing room, literally and figuratively. He came straight from Colorado College after his junior season. He wasn't a "Tank," more like a compact "Toyota," small in stature, subdued in nature. He had played against Western Collegiate Hockey Association players. He had played with Peoria in the American Hockey League, where his numbers were not overwhelming.
He might be better served spending a full season there, it was said. The jump from collegiate ice to NHL ice was asking a lot, it was said. Schwartz got a three-year, $3.5 million deal. His paperwork went in the "To Be Determined" file.
The Blues opened their quest for a Stanley Cup they have never won on Tuesday, less than four months later. When they did, Schwartz played on a line with Steen and David Backes. He played 19 minutes 36 seconds and was terrific.
He agitated and created and led the team with six shots on goal. He was a big part of a 2-1 overtime win and celebrated as such with a No. 2 "Star of the Game" skate.
Tarasenko was in the press box, a healthy scratch for his first NHL playoff game, a healthy scratch for the first time in his career. How much has changed?
The cream will rise to the top, so it is said. But in hockey, cream sometimes sinks. That's not to suggest skill doesn't matter in this sport, it does big time. But at the heart of the matter, when the ice surface shrinks and the body contact spikes, the NHL man does not win on skill alone.
Moves defer to motivation. Substance pushes style to the curb. "Difficult to play against" becomes more important than difficult plays.
Tarasenko remains an exciting talent with a bright future. He will get his chance during these playoffs, no doubt. But for all the headlines, he is still a 21-year-old adapting to an entirely new culture, on and off the ice.
On Feb. 20, he took a shoulder to the head in Colorado and missed nearly a month with concussion symptoms. When he returned, he scored in just one of his remaining 21 games, getting two goals in a March 28 loss to Los Angeles.
Tarasenko played with and against world-class skill in the KHL, true enough. But the KHL is the soft taco of the hockey league menu. The larger ice surface has a sedentary effect. There is more body contact in a high school cross-country meet. Poppa don't preach and defensemen don't pinch. And they don't play 48 games in 99 days.
"I think in reality, this has been a very difficult season for (Tarasenko)," Hitchcock said. "Not from the competition side of things, but from an intensity, games played, no practice, no rest ... I think he's found this season at times overwhelming just based on the proximity of games.
"He's played his best hockey when he's been rested. So we expect him to come into the series and be a rested player. But he's a really good hockey player who's had his eyes opened. I think if this was an 82-game season, he would be energy-wise a little bit different.
"But this has been a very difficult season for him because he has never been through anything like this in his life."
Schwartz benefited from playing in the United States Hockey League when he was younger, His college seasons were similarly condensed and he knew his way around a hot dog when he got here. Still, the 20-year-old's emergence in the same "difficult season" has been impressive.
In the first 15 games, he played more than 12 minutes only three times, played under 10 minutes eight times. Through 24 games, the midway point of the schedule, he had two goals and four assists.
Since March 1, Schwartz has played more than 13 minutes 20 times, more than 15 minutes seven times. He has become a member of the Blues core, a player who can be relied on. He finished with seven goals and 13 points. He has become the impact player.
"I can't say enough about him," said McDonald, a player of similar stature and determination. "You know, it was Vladie who got all the attention at first, and rightfully so. Schwartzie kind of flew under the radar in terms of recognition, but not in here.
"He has great awareness. He has great hockey sense and reads plays so well, and he's very hard on the puck. He just makes a lot of little plays, does a lot of subtle things that people don't necessarily notice or talk about. But he's a good player, and he's going to be a really good player for a lot of years."
The hockey people have seen it all along. From the beginning, Hitchcock admired the 5-9, 175-pound Schwartz, his work ethic, his respect for the game and the veterans in the room. Early on, the challenge was to get Schwartz to trust and respect himself.
"He's deferring," Hitchcock explained earlier in the season.
Schwartz isn't deferring anymore. Over the past six weeks, he has committed to being the player he was in college, the player he can be in the NHL. The gloves have come off.
"I think the main thing I've learned from the start of the season is to be consistent," Schwartz said. "Earlier, I wasn't having an impact. I don't know if it was a sense of not believing I could go from where I was to playing here, or not. I'm not sure.
"I didn't think I was playing bad or anything, but I didn't just want to hold my own. I wanted to have an impact for my team and teammates, and I felt I could have an impact. That's where I had to start trusting myself and finding that consistency in my game."
Much has been packed into this condensed season, and hopefully there is much more to come. Looking back, the two rookies have traveled radically different paths than what their headlines predicted. Both promise to be outstanding players in St. Louis for years to come.
In the meantime, you might want to move that Schwartz file over to the other cabinet.