was a bit distracted at practice last Thursday.
Rather than focusing on drills with his Colorado College teammates, he found himself staring at the 19,000-plus seats in the arena he practiced in, taking a few moments to look up at the retired banners and peer down at the large Blue Note beneath his skates.
In the not-too-distant future, this place, Scottrade Center, will be his home.
“I never thought I’d be playing in Scottrade this early, but I’m excited for the opportunity,” Schwartz said.
At just 18 years old, Schwartz has become one of the luckiest players in college hockey. Rarely does someone so young get to play at an NHL rink so soon. A 2010 first-round draft choice of the St. Louis Blues (14th overall), Schwartz is a freshman forward at Colorado College, a team that received an at-large bid into the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament.
All of a sudden, he was thrust into the spotlight.
“In his kind of shy, Saskatchewan way, (Jaden) kind of said ‘Do you think there’s a chance we could go to St. Louis?’ The gears were starting to work there,” said Head Coach Scott Owens. “Yeah, there was a chance.”
The chance panned out. So there he was on Friday, representing his college in the West regional of the national championship tournament in the city that drafted him.
And if first impressions mean anything, Schwartz is going to be one heck of a hockey player.
He scored twice and added two more assists to help his team to an impressive 8-4 upset over the defending-champion Boston College Eagles.
The next night, Schwartz picked up an assist but former Blue Red Berenson's Michigan Wolverines won 2-1 and are headed to the Frozen Four.
Nonetheless, Jaden finished his first season at Colorado College leading all NCAA freshman in scoring by averaging 1.5 points per game. Despite missing 15 games with a broken ankle sustained in the World Junior Championships with Team Canada, Schwartz netted 15 goals and 27 assists (42 points) in 28 regular season games. He’s a 5-foot-10, 182-pound forward with good speed and great hands that plays a major role in his team’s offense.
“It was interesting. During that stretch (when Jaden was injured), we were actually about .500,” Owens said. “When we got him back at the end of the year, it took him a few weekends to get back into game shape, but he’s a dynamic player at both ends of the rink, especially on the offensive side of things. He’s somebody that opponents have to respect. He makes his linemates better. He solidifies our team in terms of the offensive things in particular.”
Before arriving at Colorado College, Schwartz became the youngest scoring leader in decades in the United States Hockey League with 30 goals and 53 assists (83 points) as a member of the Tri-City Storm.
Schwartz said he hasn’t given much thought as to when he’ll turn pro and officially join the Blues organization.
“It’s a tough question. No one really knows,” Schwartz said. “You just want to keep getting better, keep improving and obviously get stronger and keep getting better on the ice. I’m at Colorado College right now. It’s hard not to think about (the Blues), but you don’t want to look ahead because when I think I’m ready and (Blues management) feels I’m ready, that’s when I’ll make the next step.”
Blues forward T.J. Oshie
spent three seasons at the University of North Dakota before leaving for the NHL. In all three seasons, he reached the Frozen Four but fell just short of the national championship. Despite that, he knows what it takes to transition from being a good college player to a good NHL player.
“I think the biggest part is just going out and working hard. Listen to the coaches, what they want and what they ask for,” Oshie said. “The biggest thing might be to watch the older guys. The hockey is better (in the NHL), but it’s a lot different living the pro life than it is the college life. Watch the older guys, ask a lot of questions, don’t be shy and that’s about it. Just have fun.”Kevin Shattenkirk
, who won a national championship in 2009 with Boston University, echoed Oshie’s advice.
“I think just work hard in college,” Shattenkirk said. “You can’t really worry about the pros until your time is ready. Take as much time as you need to develop and definitely don’t rush it. Once the time is right, you’ll definitely know when to (turn pro).”
For now, Schwartz is taking it all in. The experience of playing in front of a big crowd at a big arena will go a long way towards preparing him for the day he plays in the NHL.
And that’s a day both Schwartz and the Blues can look forward to.