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Hochman: Blues' Schwartz could be a factor in Game 1

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Tarasenko, Sobotka lift Blues over NHL-worst Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche's Tyson Barrie (4) chases St. Louis Blues' Jaden Schwartz (17) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, April 9, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)

ST. PAUL, Minn. • Jaden Schwartz stretches time. With the puck on his stick, he can slow a tick, and by just enough to make the best possible play in a nick. He's fast and strong and all that sort of stuff, but Schwartz has this uncanny characteristic to be patient in a ice storm, creating space with that extra half-second of possession.

“He brings it with his work ethic,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said Wednesday, prior to Game 1 against Minnesota. “He brings it with his ability to create in different types of games.”

I'm excited about Schwartz in this series.

He led the Blues with four points in the regular-season games against the Wild.

He led all Blues in plus-minus this season with plus-14, and he did so while playing in all but four games.

And often book-ending a line with The Great Tarasenko, the winger Schwartz has tallied 23 points in the final 29 games.

And so, the most-fascinating line is the Blues' top one, featuring Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and rookie Ivan Barbashev, a trio that couldn't have been concocted in October.

“All three are unique and different players, all three have skill,” said Yeo, speaking to the media before his first playoff series against the team that fired him. “And Schwartzy, I think he’s a guy that deserves more press and publicity as far as the way he plays the game and what he brings to our team. He’s tenacious, he’s got skill, he’s great defensively.

“Obviously, Vladi has his skill sets. And Barby’s a guy that’s a complement to those guys. He can create, he can make plays, he hasn’t shrunk in the moment and with the opportunity to play with top guys, like many young players would. And if anything, he’s rose to the occasion. But he’s also a guy that’s a sound player, somebody that can be reliable and responsible out there and let those guys do their thing.”

The reality – and Yeo hasn't hid from talking about this – is that Minnesota will try to swallow up No. 91. This makes Schwartz that much more important … and could fit Schwartz's play-making game. Because with more focus on Tarasenko, there could be a little time for Schwartz to play with – and more space for Schwartz to play in.

It was against this Wild team, a month ago, when Schwartz tallied perhaps his coolest assist of his team-high 36. Chasing a puck across the crease, he flipped a perfect, no-look, behind-the-back pass to Tarasenko, for a one-timer goal. It's a YouTube rewinder.

“Schwartzy, this is a guy that the more you watch him, the closer you watch him, the more you appreciate what he does for you,” Yeo said. “You put a guy like Vladi and it’s going to be a complement to a lot of people. But Schwartzy’s the kind of guy, you can put him with anybody, and that line’s going to get better. That’s what he brings. If it’s a speed, up-and-down type of game, a little bit more open space, then he can create that way. If it’s a tight-checking game, then he can get in and create turnovers, he can find a way to break teams down, whether it’s one-on-one or to create turnovers and counterattack there. He’s obviously a really useful player for us.”

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