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The Secret Weapon That is Jaden Schwartz

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Jaden Schwartz adds a hidden strength to his already great skillset.

New Jersey Devils v St Louis Blues Photo by Joe Puetz/NHLI via Getty Images

Jaden Schwartz has done a great job of establishing his worth in the St. Louis Blues organization. They reeled in the winger during the 2010 NHL Draft, two selections ahead of their Vladimir Tarasenko pick. Since then, the duo has quickly embodied St. Louis hockey, becoming the faces of a Blues offense that’s improved year-by-year.

Tarasenko’s amazing goal-scoring ability has made him the true star in St. Louis but Schwartz’s playmaking has been just as notable. He’s tallied over 50 points in four of his seven NHL seasons and was on pace for over 50 in one other. This is excluding this year, where Schwartz is on pace for 61 points; perfectly rebounding from an off-year last season. And while his offense has tremendously bolstered St. Louis’ lineup, it may be Schwartz’s often-hidden defensive-ability that makes him such a special player.

Jaden Schwartz’s Hidden Defensive Ability

The Possession Numbers

Schwartz has always been a terrific, 200-foot player. He’s tallied a Corsi-For of over 50 percent in every year of his career, with a 55 percent-or-higher three times. This includes an admirable 52.5 percent this year. This is a terrific track record for Schwartz to have, showing that the Blues are in possession more-often-than-not while Schwartz is on the ice. His relative Corsi-For has also been solid, as he’s gone positive in every year, save for one. This includes a 7.0 relative-Corsi-For in 2017-18 and a 4.0 last year. These are again great tallies, with Schwartz providing an amazing boost to the Blues possession metrics on an individual-basis. It, above all else, has proven that his ability to spark a Blues transition from defense-to-offense, and then keep that offense reliable, is truly elite.

The Graphs

While possession numbers are a great tool to show a player’s two-way ability, it’s hard to use them to strictly show talent in the defensive end. For that, Micah McCurdy’s work at Hockey Viz is the best tool to use. McCurdy’s system is able to generate graphs showing a player’s isolated impact, after taking teammates, coaching, and competition into account. It’s truly unparalleled work.

In these graphs, zero is considered league-average. The higher a player’s even-strength offense number, the more positive impact a player makes on their team’s offense. On defense, the lower a player’s number the better. It’s hard to shift one’s graph in either way, especially at any sort of extreme level. Selke favorites like Ryan O’Reilly, Patrice Bergeron, and Mark Stone, the three names that ranked highest in Selke voting last year, have ‘Even-Strength Defense’ numbers around -20 percent; showing how truly terrific their defensive-abilities are.

Jaden Schwartz’s current number is -22 percent, just better than O’Reilly’s -21 percent from this season. In fact, Schwartz has consistently had terrific numbers over the past three seasons. Here are his isolated impact graphs from 2017 to now:

Jaden Schwartz’s Isolated Impact over the course of the last three seasons, courtesy of Micah Blake McCurdy.

Schwartz has been a borderline Selke-caliber forward, based on these numbers, over the course of the last three seasons. Despite this, he somehow hasn’t managed a single vote for the award in 2018 or 2019; being cheated out of an award that more-than-deserves recognition for. Hopefully he can receive a few votes in this category at the end of this season, rewarding him for the elite-level of defense that he’s boasted all year long.

The Numbers

McCurdy’s graphs show one clear thing: Schwartz has been playing at the same level as Selke favorites for years and is currently providing a defensive-impact equal to that of reigning Selke-winner O’Reilly. The numbers provided at Evolving-Hockey agree entirely. Schwartz has an xGA/60 (expected goals-against per-60) of 2.06, just lower than O’Reilly’s 2.07 xGA/60.

Another Graph

In fact, the duo is this close in almost every defensive statistic. The best way to visualize the true similarities is, well, another graph; one Evolving-Hockey uses to quickly sum up a player’s strengths and weaknesses, where GF/60, xGF/60, CF/60, xGA/60, and CA/60 is all charted together. For the purpose of analyzing defensive skill, the latter two stats are what matter. This graph compares Schwartz and O’Reilly in these aspects:

Comparing Jaden Schwartz and Ryan O’Reilly (RAPM Single Season). Provided by Evolving-Hockey.

These graphs show that while O’Reilly does perform better defensively, it’s surprisingly close. The graphs representing the 2018-19 season is similarly close. While this isn’t defiant evidence that Schwartz is as good as O’Reilly defensively, he does show that Schwartz is at the same, defensive-statistics level as the reigning Selke winner.

Rounding it Up

Many fans have always wanted more from Schwartz who, as seen in the above graph, should have way more to give offensively. But his strong-but-not-peak offense is made up for by a defensive ability that’s on par with some of the best players in the league. It’s a skill that very easily goes overlooked but Schwartz’s talent makes him a truly elite player. In one draft, the Blues acquired an elite goal-scorer in Tarasenko, and an absolutely elite two-way player in Schwartz, within the span of three picks. Together, the two helped to lead the Blues to their first Stanley Cup; only bolstering their already rich resume.

Again, thanks to the amazing work by Micah McCurdy (Hockey Viz) and ‘the Twins’ (Evolving-Hockey) for the statistics used in this piece.