Chris Stewart isn’t a player that the St. Louis Blues need to be worried about heading into the home stretch of the 2013-14 NHL season. This, of course, flies in the face of the collective wisdom that has been swirling around No. 25 since he played a season-low 5:32 against the New York Islanders on Saturday.
Since then, pundits around the league have weighed in with their opinions and the prevalent feeling seems to be one of panic. Stewart was mostly benched against New York and was dropped to the fourth line against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. This isn’t his first rodeo—or brush with the demotion ploy—and he didn’t shy away from taking responsibility for his poor level of play while speaking with the media recently.
Stewart spoke with Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and had this to say about his limited ice time over the last two contests:
It’s obviously a message. So, the message has been delivered and it’s how you respond. I can’t worry about who I’m playing with or all that other stuff. I have to worry about what I can control, and that’s how I play. So I have to stick with it here and try to raise my level of play.
When it comes to evaluating players, the negative tends to stick out more than the positive. In general and throughout his career, Stewart has been a streaky player that can drive onlookers bonkers with long stretches of ineffectiveness. He’s so big and so strong and seems to have the potential to be one of the NHL’s top power forwards. How does a guy like that end up invisible for long stretches of time?
Look to those same Islanders who Stewart was benched against for all the reassurance you’ll need. Kyle Okposo took his sweet time
in developing into a go-to guy for New York, and the team is reaping the benefits of being patient with him this year. Stewart has been around for a while so it’s easy to forget that he’s only 26. Okposo is 25 and is just now blossoming into a forward that can strong-arm his way to the net.
The two have similar play styles and pedigrees. Is it so wild to think that Stewart is close to reaching this level of play?
North-south power guys simply take longer to develop than peripheral snipers. It might seem foolish to indicate that a player with 371 career games is still coming along, but history is chock full of players that don’t get rolling until later on in their careers. Think Chris Kunitz or even Alexander Steen.
If that example doesn’t make you feel better about the Blues and their resident “problem child,” then consider the fact that he’s scored 63 goals across 205 games as a member of the team. Is he chasing down Alex Ovechkin for a league scoring title? Absolutely not. But for a guy who has a reputation for vanishing for months at a time, averaging a goal every three or four games isn’t half bad.
All of this is to say that St. Louis has a lot of motivation to say patient with Stewart. The team’s scoring depth is outstanding right now, with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz rapidly evolving as the stars of the future while the likes of David Backes and Steen are cranking out points like there’s no tomorrow.
This gives Ken Hitchcock a little more time to iron out the kinks with Stewart. The Blues are a much more deadly team when he’s got the killswitch turned on. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to find a way to keep it on. This isn’t a bad problem to have for St. Louis. Stewart and his scoring woes came to the forefront when the team wasn’t winning hockey games a few weeks ago, but they seem to be back on track once again.
So let’s all relax and remember that Stewart’s cap hit is along the same lines as Mike Fisher and Tyler Bozak and that he has a boatload of potential and skill. Will he have to cash in on that sooner or later? Absolutely. Once he simplifies his game and settles down again, Stewart will get back to being the physical, dangerous forward that the Blues saw when they traded for him in the first place.