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Blues' Schwartz expected to play Friday

St. Louis forward has been out since ankle surgery in October

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Left wing Jaden Schwartz won't be asked to be a savior when he returns to the St. Louis Blues lineup, but the thought of adding a 28-goal scorer from a season ago should help a staggering offense. 

Schwartz was activated off injured reserve Wednesday and will play against the Florida Panthers on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-MW, FS-F, NHL.TV) after missing 49 games with a fractured left ankle.

Schwartz has been out since he was injured during practice on Oct. 23. He had surgery and was expected to miss 12 weeks. 

"It's exciting; it's a long time being out," Schwartz said after practice Wednesday. "I've been really anxious and looking forward to being able to get back playing. I'm just looking forward to getting with the guys and the team as much as I can. This is what I love to do and I've been doing it my whole life. To be able to get back on the ice and be able to play, it's exciting. I've been looking forward to it. 

"When you're hurt, it feels like you're not as part of the team as you want to be. Everyone goes through injuries at certain points. Some of them are longer and feel more frustrating than others and tougher to come back from, but it's all behind me now. I'm going to have to maintain it still and do some work on it still, but it's good enough to play, so I'm excited." 

Schwartz, who had four assists in seven games prior to the injury, and 28 goals and 63 points in 75 games last season, initially won't get the full responsibilities he's been accustomed to, but he will be a welcomed addition to a team that has scored four even-strength goals the past six games. 

"We've got to tap the brakes here; he's missed (49) games and it's going to be at least five or six games until he's at least close to speed," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think we've got to be careful here because he's going to have his hands full just keeping up. He's not going to play on the power play, he's not going to kill penalties, so the first two or three games, he's going to see 5-on-5 play." 

Schwartz, 23, has been a regular at practice since Jan. 20, first at morning skates and most recently taking physical contact. He skated with right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and center Jori Lehtera, reuniting the successful "STL Line" of a season ago. 

"We had a really good time last year," said Tarasenko, who leads the Blues with 26 goals and 47 points. "It's always nice when one of your friends comes back from this hard injury. I think [the whole] team misses him here in this locker room. It's really nice to have [Schwartz] back. 

"I think we have a pretty good feeling about it. Today in practice, it was pretty nice to play together again. I talked with Jori already this morning, and our job now is to help [Schwartz] feel the game faster because it's always hard to come back after injury. I think he will need some time right now, but me and Jori will try to help make his life easier. ... He's a great player. I don't think it will take a while for him." 

The Blues are 18th in the NHL with 88 goals at 5-on-5 and are averaging 2.38 goals per game, down from 2.91 last season. 

"Anywhere we can get goals from right now, we'll gladly take them," captain David Backes said. "[Schwartz is] a guy that brings a lot of energy to our lineup. He's a relentless forechecker and just hounds the puck. It's exactly what we can use right now, another guy to fall in that department. Hopefully he's got some game legs under him, but in time with his work ethic, he'll be a huge factor in adding to our ability to contain the [offensive zone] and hopefully some more goals into the net. We can celebrate and that can become perpetual." 

Schwartz will have 26 regular-season games to get caught up to the rest of the Blues, and that's why Hitchcock will play him initially with familiar linemates. 

"The other two guys, Lehtera and Tarasenko, are going to have to carry the day a little bit for him because it's going to be a tough go for him to catch up," Hitchcock said. "I think when he's up to speed he brings instant, quick offense that is hard to find in the League. He doesn't miss, he scores, he's a hungry scorer. I think when you have hungry scorers on your team, it feeds energy into other people, and that's probably what we've missed is that element that feeds into other team members. But we've really got to tap the brakes here and allow him to grow into the game, which is going to take four or five games." 

Schwartz said playing with Lehtera and Tarasenko will ease the initial tension. 

"They're familiar faces, familiar linemates," Schwartz said. "They're a lot of fun to play with. I kind of read off them pretty easily. They're creative players, so hopefully we can pick up where we left off before. I'm excited to play with them. It'll help, just knowing where they are on the ice, just being familiar with them. Missing this many games and jumping into my first game, it helps being with the players I've played with before. 

"I'm hoping to just get up to speed early in the game. Hopefully it doesn't take too long to get used to my surroundings and get my speed going. Just help the team out. I'm not looking to do anything that's out of my characteristic. Just do what I did before and things will work out. ... I'm going to just come in and try to help. A lot of it is puck luck. There's a lot of different scenarios that go into that. It's a long season. There's certain spurts throughout the year that all teams go through, dry spells as far as scoring or power play, whatever it is."

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