A casual observer of the Colorado Avalanche might have looked at Chris Stewart’s recent eight-game point streak and assumed the second-year NHL player was simply in the midst of a hot stretch of play.
During his streak, the winger totaled 13 points (7g/6a) – including a hat trick on March 6 against the St. Louis Blues – before finally being held off the score sheet for the first time in over two weeks during Wednesday’s contest versus Los Angeles.
Instead, Stewart believes he’s just now reaching the potential Colorado envisioned when the organization selected him in the first round (18th overall) of the 2006 Entry Draft.
“I believe 100 percent that this is the player I am,” said Stewart. “I think I can bring it consistently each night and help this team win games. We’re hoping to put together a good stretch before the playoffs.”
The numbers back up Stewart’s line of thinking.
The 22-year-old has been much more than a good player getting a few fortunate bounces lately, as his “hot streak” has extended so long that it can no longer be considered an aberration. What we’re seeing is Chris Stewart blossoming into a star before our eyes.
Following a well-documented early-season demotion to Colorado’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, Stewart came back with the mindset of someone hitting the reset button on his career. Instead of worrying about putting up points, he first needed to get back to the things that made him successful in the first place.
For Stewart, that meant using his 6-foot-2, 228-pound frame to provide a physical presence, whether that entailed delivering big hits, battling hard in the corners or dropping the gloves.
Not long after being recalled and showing that his commitment and focus were in the right place, Stewart took an opportunity to play more minutes and hasn’t looked back.
“As the opportunity arose and key guys kept getting injured I started getting a bigger and bigger role on this team, so I tried to take the ball and run with it.”
The results have been eye-popping.
Stewart has been better than a point-per-game player over his last 50 games, totaling 54 points (27g/27a). He leads the team in goal scoring with 28, and ranks second on the team overall with 60 points.
And as the season has progressed, he’s only gotten better. These days, it’s a rarity for Stewart’s name not to appear on the score sheet, as he’s produced 24 points (11g/13a) in his last 16 games.
It’s amazing how much things can change in a year.
In December of 2008, Stewart was summoned from Lake Erie for the first time and quickly became a key member of the Avalanche’s squad as a rookie by playing with the aforementioned physical edge.
“Last year I was going through team’s lineups and trying to single out guys who might be a possible matchup for me that night, but now I’m just more worried about playing, staying on the ice and contributing.”
When combined with his offensive output, the skill set that first helped him crack the Avalanche’s lineup is now considered a luxury. Rarely do you find a player of Stewart’s size who can hit, skate, score or even drop the gloves if the situation is appropriate.
But what the Toronto native credits the most for his success is the camaraderie he shares with his linemates. For most of the season, Stewart has been skating alongside assistant captain Paul Stastny
on Colorado’s top line. And for the majority of March, that pair has been flanked by rookie left winger T.J. Galiardi.
It helps that Galiardi and Stastny are extremely talented, but it may be even more important that they are two of Stewart’s closest friends away from the rink. That chemistry and the comfort factor that goes along with the situation quickly translated onto the ice.
“We’re just trying to feed off that. We don’t even think out there anymore,” said Stewart. “We just kind of know where each other is going to be. We’re great friends off the ice too and we’re always talking about different plays or scenarios. That’s definitely been a big part of it.”
That sentiment has been what’s defined the Avalanche as a team all year.
“Our personalities mesh really well, and that’s been the story of this team,” said Stewart. “Everyone here is great friends. We have a good time here and we love winning hockey games. We play for each other out there.”