ST. LOUIS — An obviously leaner and stronger Chris Stewart was among the latest players to arrive in St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, joining teammates for some pre-training camp workout sessions.
The results of the right winger's work with his Toronto-based trainer, speed coach and nutritionist were easily visible during and after the practice session at St. Louis Mills.
"This is the leanest I've ever been in my life," said the 6-foot-2 Stewart, who appeared well below the 232 pounds he is listed at on the Blues' web site roster. "I'm excited to put the training into results and help this team win a Stanley Cup."
Stewart's motivation comes from several locations, most notably his own desire to bounce back from a sub-par season that saw him benched twice during the playoffs.
The 25-year-old signed a one-year, $3 million contract extension last summer after his offensive totals dipped to 15 goals and 30 points last season.
He had scored 28 goals in each of the previous two seasons and entered 2011-12 with unusually high expectations.
A return to the form that saw Stewart blossom into one of the NHL's top power forwards with Colorado and later the Blues could lead to bigger and better things for both parties.
Besides committing himself to workouts, changing his diet and learning he was allergic to rice, Stewart also dabbled a bit in mixed martial arts (MMA).
"We did a little bit of MMA every Friday, a little sparring and stuff like that, but nothing too crazy," said Stewart, who cautioned reporters against reading too much into his workout regimen. "It's not really unique, I just worked with a well-established trainer. We just worked hard and we attacked it from a diet standpoint, just really got ahead of the game."
While Stewart has yet to score a goal or blast an opponent into the boards, his appearance definitely caught the eye of Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.
Hitchcock watched intently Tuesday at St. Louis Mills as former Blues player Jamie Rivers ran about 15 players through informal workouts.
"There was great energy, guys were having fun," Hitchcock said. "But you see summer hockey -- and the teams that get out of that mode the quickest are going to be successful."
When asked about Stewart, a player challenged to improve from a fitness standpoint, Hitchcock was quick and to the point.
"He's done three things: He's lost weight, he's in great shape and he's focused," Hitchcock said. "He's done a heck of a job. He looks great, he looks like a different player on the ice. When you see him skate he's way more fluid....he looks really good."
Stewart and Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, a longtime friend from their younger hockey days in Toronto, played together in Germany and the Czech Republic during the lockout.
"There's only one way to get in game shape and that's to go play games," Stewart said. "There obviously wasn't the opportunity here, so I went over with my best friend and we played together for 2 1/2 months. We had fun, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity."
Stewart had one assist in five games with Liberec of the top Czech Republic league. He also had six goals and 20 points in 15 games with the Crimmitschau Ice Pirates in the German second-division league.
As an "import," Stewart was leaned on heavily and said he played 25 to 30 minutes a night. Playing on the larger European ice surface also aided his fitness level.
"I especially noticed over there," he said. "Last year come the third period I was a little tired and this year when I was over there in the third period that's when I started to get going."
Jackman and the Blues ready to roll
Veteran Blues defenseman Barret Jackman was part of a core group of about 10 players that remained in St. Louis during the lockout, skating together in workouts led by former Blues player Jamie Rivers.
Jackman didn't enjoy the long break and is glad the shortened NHL season is just around the corner.
"It was really different," he said. "I think it was nice that I have a family now and they definitely occupied a lot of my time, but it's hard.
"No matter if you're young or you're old, you're on pins and needles and you're sitting there going day to day. You stay in shape, but mentally it's a drain."
With the league apparently targeting Jan. 19 to open the regular season, players and coaches won't have much time to fine-tune their games.
"This time around it's going to be condensed," Jackman said. "You're going to have a game every two days and that's going to be wearing (on you). The first week or two is going to be all on adrenaline.
"After that, you've got to manage your body and manage your rest, be smart about the minutes that are played and the rest in between games."
Along with Stewart, other new faces skating with the Blues on Tuesday were Matt D'Agostini, Kris Russell and Chris Porter.
Patrik Berglund and others are expected by Wednesday, with Hitchcock itching to put on some skates and join everyone once the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement has been ratified.
"We've got really good leadership," Hitchcock said. "We've got a really good captain...this is a team that really likes each other and really plays for each other -- and we're not bringing in a bunch of new guys. I think we can cut through some things that maybe other teams can't and that might give us a wee bit of an advantage down the line.
"But it all goes for naught unless I get the players engaged."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.