It cannot be stressed enough that most players need to be put into favorable conditions to succeed. For every superlative superstar like Sidney Crosby who can get his own no matter what, there are dozens of NHL players who need their teammates and coaches to do their jobs in order to be productive themselves.
That brings us to Kris Versteeg, who's been as inconsistent as a player could possibly be during this season with the Chicago Blackhawks. Over the past few months, we've seen every version of Versteeg, whether he was dashing through defenders to set up a perfect pass or spinning himself into a turnover after holding the puck for 10 seconds.
Versteeg seems to be precisely the kind of talented player who is dependent on what kinds of teammates he's playing with, and on the Blackhawks, that's been a bit of a problem.
Other than an extended stretch in the middle of the season when Versteeg was partnered with Patrick Kane and Brad Richards, he's had anything but a steady role. There have been the brief forays on the first line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, and since the Kane injury the team has tried to mix-and-match its different forwards with little success.
The blender may work for some guys, and a team-wide level it hasn't really sunk the Blackhawks' chances, but with Versteeg, it's prevented him from finding any sort of rhythm. He's gotten into the habit of constantly trying to create big plays, rather than work within the system, and that's led him to press whenever he gets the puck. Versteeg doesn't look patient -- he looked panicked.
And much of that seems to have begun once the Kane injury ocurred. I know we can tie a lot of things to that moment -- the team lost its most productive player, bad things were bound to happen -- but few of them stand out as much as Versteeg's complete collapse.
Of the 34 points that Versteeg has scored this season, 13 of them came while playing on the line with Kane and Richards, per DobberHockey. That's over 38 percent of his scoring production for the season coming in just 25 percent of the ice time he's been out there. Even next to Toews and Hossa, where he's been starting lately, he's only recorded three points while spending over 18 percent of his ice time with that duo.
The numbers before and after the injury are startling. Here's with Kane healthy (via Hockey-Reference):
And here's post-Kane injury:
Not only has his shooting percentage fallen off a cliff, but his shot rate dropped from 2.39 per game to just 1.79. This is one of those instances where the eye test and the numbers totally agree -- Versteeg's not playing like he was earlier in the season.
It seems to be stemming from a few of factors. (a) Kane was playing out his mind earlier this season, and anyone will benefit from spending time next to a guy like that. (b) Versteeg seemed to back off his puckhandling ways when next to Kane, who's one of the game's premier guys with the puck on his stick. (c) Versteeg is just straight up pressing at this point.
The much more difficult question, at least from this perspective, is how do you get Versteeg back on track. It's concerning how similar this year's downfall looks to last year's, and we all know how that ended -- with healthy scratch after healthy scratch as the Hawks fell short in the playoffs. If the team can't depend on Versteeg again this year, I'm not so certain the end result will be much different.
Versteeg never put together a stretch in 2013-14 like the one he had next to Richards and Kane this season, however, so there's a silver lining of hope to be found. Versteeg can be saved. I'm just becoming increasingly convinced the blender won't do it.