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Tarasenko, Schwartz key cogs in Blues offense

by Louie Korac /

ST. LOUIS -- Their first conversations were brief, first on the floor of Staples Center in Los Angeles at the 2010 NHL Draft, and then again at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo.

A handshake was exchanged after Russia defeated Canada in the gold-medal game, with Vladimir Tarasenko telling Jaden Schwartz at the time, "See you in St. Louis."

It was the beginning of what has turned into satisfying starts to promising careers for Schwartz, 22, and Tarasenko, 23, each first-round picks by the St. Louis Blues.

"It goes by fast," Schwartz said. "It's hard to believe it's been that long. You go to college for two years, then you're with the Blues; it all just happens fast.

"When I first came in I didn't know where I'd fit in. Obviously we had a really good team when I came in and I wasn't playing as much. I had to work my way up and earn it. That's what a lot of guys have to do. Once you start playing more you realize you can play at this level. You want to contribute and be a big part of the team."

Schwartz and Tarasenko are part of a youthful core that will be counted on during the Blues' Stanley Cup Playoff push.

Tarasenko, who returned from a lower-body injury to play in the regular-season finale, led the Blues in goals (37) and points (73). Schwartz was second with 28 goals and third with 63 points.

Though they're not the sole players producing for the Blues, their contributions certainly will be a telltale sign if the Blues can be a threat after losing in the first round the past two years.

"This is the best time of the year right now and something that you should enjoy," Schwartz said. "They're hard games, they're big challenges. You win, you keep moving; you lose, you go home when it comes to playoff time.

"We want to make sure we're contributing and doing our part. We're going to enjoy it. The season has gone well for us as a team. When the team does well you see a lot of individuals doing well as well. That's part of it."

Schwartz and Tarasenko are part of the new wave of talent that has engulfed the Central Division. According to coach Ken Hitchcock, it's going to remain this way for a long time and the Blues need their young guns to help keep pace.

"They're kind of the next generation here, which is what you're going to need," Hitchcock said. "... You're going to need significant players coming in to help you maintain the level that you're playing at right now, and those are the type of players that are going to have to come in and do that.

"They've done a good job, but as they grow their growth is going to help us maintain a very competitive group here for a number of years. But they have to grow and they've done a real good job at developing their game now. ... They're our two emerging young players with [defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo]."

Tarasenko is the Blues' difference-maker and the opposition knows it. Schwartz is gritty and plays like he's angry. He hounds you until he gets what he wants, and Schwartz is one of the best at being relentless on the puck. Until Tarasenko was injured, they made up two-thirds of the "STL Line," with center Jori Lehtera.

Vladimir Tarasenko
Right Wing - STL
GOALS: 37 | ASST: 36 | PTS: 73
SOG: 264 | +/-: 27
"If he is kept off the scoreboard you're obviously giving your team a good chance to win," Shattenkirk said of Tarasenko. "The one thing with him is that no matter what every game he finds himself with four or five scoring chances. If you manage to come out of that with no pucks in your net then I think you're fortunate. He just has a way of finding space and getting pucks to the net. That's important for us. He's a game-changer.

"[Schwartz] really drives the bus for that line sometimes or most times. He goes in there, digs those pucks out. He's a great set-up guy. A lot of good things he does may go unnoticed. Another guy who competes really hard and has that ability to be a game changer for us. The way that those two have found a little bit of chemistry this year, great for us and great to see because we know they're kind of the future of this team. And to have them paired together for the next few years will be huge."

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