Chris Stewart Starting to Shine As Trade Deadline Approaches

For the Buffalo Sabres, the 2014-2015 season is one that many would like to forget. The Sabres organization is chalked full of prospects and more will be added this summer. This season has been another rough one for the club but the future looks very bright.

As the NHL inches closer to the trade deadline, head coach Ted Nolan made a bold move with his players. With very limited success in Buffalo this season, Ted Nolan recently encouraged his players to up their game. His message to his team was that scouts from other clubs are watching. If they want an opportunity on another club then they need work hard to show these clubs what they can bring to the table.

Chris Stewart has been mentioned in many trade rumors in recent weeks. His status as an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season makes him a shoo-in for a change of scenery. After a poor start left him in Ted Nolan’s dog house earlier this season, Stewart has upped his game ahead of the trade deadline. The forward figures to be a major piece for the Sabres at the deadline and his value will increase if he continues to play well.

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Chris Stewart’s Pre-Buffalo Days

Chris Stewart has a lot of talent and size but his NHL career has been hampered by inconsistency. The six foot two and two hundred thirty-one pound forward is playing in his sixth NHL season. The twenty-seven year old’s physical play can make life miserable for the opposition. His recent upsurge in offensive production is happening with the NHL’s worst offense so potential trade deadline buyers have taken notice.

Stewart spent three seasons in junior as a member of the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL. The forward had a very successful OHL career where he amassed more than a point per game. According to Hockey-Reference.com, in one hundred eighty seven games with the Frontenacs, Stewart scored ninety-one goals, one hundred ninety-nine points and accrued two hundred seventy-one penalty minutes.

The Colorado Avalanche drafted Stewart in the first round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. After the draft, Stewart spent a few seasons in the AHL with the Albany River Rats and Lake Erie Monsters. Stewart’s AHL career wasn’t as productive as his time in the OHL. In one hundred three AHL games, the forward scored thirty-one goals and fifty-eight points.

Stewart saw his first action in the NHL during the 2008-2009 season. He spent parts of three seasons with the Avalanche where he averaged 0.68 points per game – the best production with an NHL club of his career. In 2011 Stewart was traded to the St. Louis Blues where he spent four seasons. The veteran has made three post-season appearances during his career where he’s notched six points in nineteen games.

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Career in Buffalo and Value for the Sabres

The Sabres acquired Chris Stewart last season in the trade that sent Ryan Miller and former Sabres’ captain Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues. Since joining the Sabres, Stewart’s production has fallen off in comparison to his previous years. The forward played just five games for Buffalo after he arrived as an injury limited his play. In fifty-three games with the Sabres, Stewart has just nine goals and eighteen points which have all been scored this season.

Inconsistency has been an issue throughout Stewart’s NHL career and it surfaced again in the early-going of this season. Stewart tallied just one point in the month of October for the Sabres and had three goals in his first twenty-seven games. His lack of production was concerning and it resulted in Stewart being a healthy scratch in the Sabres’ December 9th match against the Los Angeles Kings.

Despite his early struggles, Stewart has recently started to shine. According to TSN, Stewart has scored four goals and six points in his last six games. Of particular interest is the fact that five of these six points were tallied on the power play. Buffalo has the NHL’s worst power play converting on just 11.4% of their opportunities with the man advantage. A successful power play has been rare in Sabreland this season so this scoring surge is very noteworthy.

The NHL trade deadline is on March 2nd which is less than a month away. Stewart’s recent hot streak is happening at the right time for the Sabres. Teams are no doubt aware of his inconsistencies but Stewart can provide good rental value for a team looking to make a playoff run. Size and physical play are coveted during the post-season and Stewart answers the bell in both of these categories.

Sabres’ GM Tim Murray recently commented that the trade market is very quiet. With only a few trades made so far this season, the market price for trades hasn’t been fully established. This makes it difficult to gauge what the Sabres can expect in return for Stewart.

If Stewart continues to be productive, the hope for the Sabres is that a bidding war ensues for the forward to drive up the price. However, putting aside his recent play, Stewart on the whole is having a disappointing season. Murray may need to package Stewart with another player or a draft pick to get his desired return but, as an impending UFA, it seems to be an almost certainty that Stewart will be traded by March 2nd.