With St. Louis readying for the NHL playoffs, former Colorado College standout Jaden Schwartz is too busy to reflect on how far he has come from Melfort, Saskatchewan - a town of less than 6,000.
"When you do have time to think back, you realize how lucky you are, and how hard you worked and that this is something you dreamed about growing up and worked toward," he said. "I felt CC and college was the best place to get me ready for this. You just continue to learn but the odd times that you get to look back, it's obviously pretty special."
Schwartz soon emerged as one of the better two-way forwards in the NHL when he signed with the Blues in 2012. It's why the organization signed him through the 2020-21 season.
While Schwartz may be focused on another opportunity to battle for the Stanley Cup, he is often reminded of his two college seasons when he sees a familiar name on the opposing lineup. Former collegians make up 30 percent of NHL rosters. He and former Denver standout Paul Stastny have a friendly wager when CC and DU play.
"You check scores if it's a big weekend, especially if they play Denver," Schwartz said. "I know the people who work there and the new coaching staff. It's a place I loved playing for and a team I loved being part of.
"I love going back there to see people and train at altitude. Those two years really matured me as a player both in my physique and on the ice."
Schwartz was a natural goal-scorer as a youth in Saskatchewan, later in juniors in the U.S. Hockey League and at CC, where he also developed into a playmaker.
In the NHL, where his 5-foot-10, 188-pound frame made him one of the smaller players, he has recorded more assists than goals (313 games, 208 points, 120 assists through Saturday).
The 2010 first-round pick (14th overall) remained a valuable contributor with strong defensive play and passing, even during a 14-game goal-scoring cold spell (Feb. 16 to March 21).
"The fact that he is constantly setting up teammates, forcing turnovers, getting in on the forecheck and making plays at the blue line, shows he is just being the playmaker that he is," Stastny said.
"Every game, you pause the video and he's in the picture," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "That points to his work ethic. When he is at the top of his game, he is the picture of tenacity."
Buoyed by a goal March 21, Schwartz has recorded at least one point in six of the past 10 games for the Blues (7-1-2 in that span through Saturday), which clinched a playoff berth Friday.
The 24-year-old's excitement still builds as the playoffs near.
"I have never been in that situation but if you play 82 games and don't make the playoffs you would feel like it's a wasted year a little bit," he said.