Projected as a late first rounder or early second rounder, the St. Louis Blues stunned the hockey world when then head scout Jarmo Kekäläinen encouraged President John Davidson to go off the board and nab Jaden Schwartz with the 14th pick.
While it's early to say the Blues got a complete steal with Schwartz, early returns show the five-foot-10 left winger is an absolute keeper.
Named Canada's captain for the 2012 World Junior Championship, which begins Boxing Day, Schwartz will have the spotlight – and a nation of rabid fans – focused on him the next two weeks. And at least one American, Colorado College head coach Scott Owens.
The only non CHL player on the Canadian roster, Schwartz has been honing his craft with Owens and the Tigers the past two seasons.
Owens told PROSPECT PRESCRIPTION that after Schwartz scored 17 goals and chipped in 30 assists in 30 games last season, the 19-year old Wilcox, Sask. native's game has done a complete 180 degrees this season as he has just five goals in 13 games. That said, he's still producing an assist per game with 13 in 13 games.
"It's interesting. Last year, he was more a goal scorer. This year, he's more of a playmaker," says Owens. "I think he's got the ability to do both. He's got an excellent release and an ability to score. This year, his brother [Rylan] is on fire in terms of scoring goals. He has 16 goals for us right now and Jaden has been a big part of that.
Owens attributes Schwartz' spectacular play to his exceptional vision and hockey sense.
"Jaden has elite hockey sense. He sees the ice extremely well and he has great hands. He just has that unique skill set that just makes him a threat every time he's on the ice," says Owens.
He's also a leader in every sense of the word, says Owens, which is why he wasn't surprised to hear Schwartz was being considered to serve as Captain Canada. (Editor's note: This interview was done just prior to Schwartz being named captain.)
"Jaden's character and personality traits are as strong as his hockey playing ability. He's extremely mature for his age. He's extremely team-oriented. He's unselfish. He's got good, natural leadership abilities and it doesn't surprise me at all that he may be named the captain."
Owens says Schwartz is obviously a dominant player at the college level but never is his mastery with the puck more evident than when the Tigers are playing with the man advantage.
"We use Jaden on the half wall. He has the puck a lot. He's right there in the middle and he's handling it, he's distributing it both up to [Gabe] Guentzel up top and down low to his brother," explains Owens. "We have the third-ranked powerplay in college hockey and he's got the puck on his stick a lot of the time.
Owens believes Schwartz' game will translate well to the NHL, mostly because at that level, it's a control game.
"Right now he's playing with his brother who is a real skill guy like he is, but in the NHL, he's going to be playing with even better skill guys. Again, he's so smart and his stick is so strong. I think his game will definitely translate," offers Owens. "It's just a matter of when. Is he going to need two years in the AHL, is he going to need one is going to need half? All that has to play out yet."
While Schwartz is listed as five-foot-10, Owens says he's probably closer to five-foot-nine. And while size doesn't matter, don't expect him to rack up hits and penalty minutes in your multi-cat leagues.
"Jaden's not a real big guy. And he doesn't take a lot of penalty minutes. But he's solid so I think his durability is good," says Owens. "He's a clean player but he is strong and durable. He hurt his ankle last year at the world juniors and he was out awhile. He's not a real, real physical guy. He's just smart. He does not put himself into vulnerable positions where he's going to get dinged up. And I knock on wood as I say that because of the world juniors last year."
Schwartz broke his ankle at last year's championship and ended up missing the second half of the college season.
Owens says that despite the possibility of another injury, returning to Team Canada for a second chance at personal gold has far more pros than cons for Schwartz.
"It's a big time bonus for the program when he's up there. I believe he's the only college guy on Team Canada. It's followed so well, so closely up there. It's good exposure for college hockey and for Colorado College," says Owens. "Jaden comes back with more confidence and hopefully shedding a little light on our program, as well, because of his character and his play. It's a win-win deal. We just hope that we can get him back and he's not too tired or dinged up but if he is, he is."
And if you think Schwartz donning the red and white at the world juniors puts Owens, an American, in a difficult position, think again.
"It's an interesting dynamic. I'm American. And our arena is 100 yards from USA Hockey in Colorado Springs. But I'm rooting for Jaden and if that means Canada wins the championship then they win the championship. Obviously, we have six or seven Canadian kids on our team, so I am basically a Jaden Schwartz and a Schwartz family fan. Is that politically alright?"
Fine by us, coach. Fine by us.
E.P.T.A. (ESTIMATED PROSPECT TIME OF ARRIVAL): 2013-14