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Jaden Schwartz close to returning

Injured Blues forward could play Tuesday; centers Jori Lehtera, Kyle Brodziak, defenseman Carl Gunnarsson each day to day

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- St. Louis Blues forward Jaden Schwartz could return to the lineup as soon as their game against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; SNV, FS-MW, NHL.TV).

Schwartz practiced Monday for the first time since sustaining a hyperextended left elbow sustained during practice Sept. 29. He was expected to need four weeks to recover.

"I don't know, it feels better," Schwartz said. "We don't have a game circled yet, so just trying to get the timing and feel more comfortable. But it's feeling better.

"Just [want] to feel more comfortable, feel the strength out and be able to get the timing down, just feel confident making plays and in the dirty areas. Going from practice to games is different, obviously. I've got to realize that and make sure that it's ready to go. It was good having everyone out there. That was the first time I practiced with the full team and was able to do all the drills. That's obviously a good step in the right direction."

Having Schwartz available for a spot among the top six forwards will be a big boost for the Blues.

"He's an important player," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Even at 80 percent last year he was a good player. Close to 100 percent, he's going to be a real help for us. He's exactly what we need. We saw it at practice today his ability on the rush and his tempo, his compete level is very impressive. When he's back and he's ready to go, it's going to be a big help."

Last season Schwartz had eight goals and 14 assists in 33 games, but missed 49 games because of a fractured left ankle.

Schwartz's teammates are anxious to get him back.

"It's something we've all been waiting for," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Injuries or not, he's certainly a guy who's been circled and thought about in a lot of people's minds coming back to his team. Obviously getting off to a 3-0 start without him is huge, but we know that when he comes in the lineup he's only going to improve our team."

Centers Jori Lehtera and Kyle Brodziak, and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, are day to day after sustaining upper-body injuries during the Blues' 3-2 win against the New York Rangers on Saturday. Gunnarsson and Brodziak accompanied the Blues on their three-game trip to Western Canada. Lehtera was not on the trip but could meet the team at some point.

"We'll see when [Lehtera] joins us, what period of time," Hitchcock said. "But he's not going to go on the first leg of the trip to Vancouver, so he'll stay away. The other two guys are on the trip with us, so we'll see how they are. All three guys are day to day, but we don't think that Lehtera's in a position to play right now."

Hitchcock said there's no need for call-ups from Chicago of the American Hockey League, which could mean most of the Blues' injured players will play at some point during the trip.

"We've got (21) guys here," Hitchcock said. "Schwartz is skating full time, so he's available in the next few games hopefully. I'm not sure; we'll talk to him after [Tuesday] and then these guys by obviously making the trip, they've obviously got a chance to play on the trip. We've got lots of bodies.

"I'm not ruling out [anything]. None of these guys we're ruling out anything. They're on the trip. It means if you're on the trip, you have a chance to play whether in Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary or all of the above. We'll see."

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