How long can Kris Versteeg's early pace continue?
Kris Versteeg is off to a fantastic start for the Blackhawks. Is this something we should expect to see continue, or will he flame out eventually?
Over the course of the summer, fans of the Chicago Blackhawks waited and waited for at least one of their own to be dealt. Up against the cap and in need of moving at least one contract to get under the salary cap threshold. Most clamored that it should be Kris Versteeg that was dealt more so than anyone, but coming off of a slow start to the regular season last year, and an absolutely miserable postseason, there wasn't a ton of value out there for the winger. Nick Leddy went instead.
While Leddy is obviously missed, for multiple reasons, the Blackhawks are likely extremely pleased that they gave Versteeg another crack at it, even after that atrocious postseason performance that led to him serving as a healthy scratch and ending up stapled to the bench on multiple occasions. He's represented a consistent source of offense for the Hawks, who are on a torrid pace right now, having won 13 of their last 15 games.
With Patrick Kane and Brad Richards on the second line, Versteeg has found his rhythm, and the Blackhawks have iced an extremely dominant top six. Richards was also off to a slow start, but has since found his game as well in joining the likes of Kane and Versteeg.
Thus far on the year, Versteeg is the third highest scoring member of the Hawks, in terms of points, with 24, a total which includes eight goals, third highest goal output on the team. While we tend to frown upon utilizing plus/minus as a stat that tells you anything about a player, Versteeg does lead the team with a plus-15 rating to this point. Something to be said for that, even if advanced metrics indicate a much clearer picture of where he stands.
Even the advanced stuff paints a pretty strong picture for ol' Steeger. He's posted a CF% just a touch over 53 to this point, with a Corsi +/- of 73. Of course, it is important to note that he does start the vast majority of his shifts in the offensive zone, at almost a 70 percent clip, but that's to be expected when you're riding with Richards and Kane. This line isn't out there for what they can achieve defensively. Nonetheless, they've done solid work in out-chancing their opponents throughout the year.
One can easily see the improvements in Versteeg's game, now that he's healthy and comfortable again, by simply watching him out there. The decision-making is better. He's not trying to do too much with the puck, as was the case last year. He's clearing the zone effectively, carrying the puck into the offensive zone (rather than dumping it in like he would at every opportunity last year), and making the right choices as far as when to pass and when to shoot, both of which were also an issue last year. Additionally, he's drawing at least a penalty a game, on average, while limiting his own errors that result in time spent in the penalty box.
The question isn't whether we'll continue to see this type of performance from Versteeg. He has clearly transformed back into the player that Stan Bowman hoped he was acquiring early on last season. The two-way play is there and he's the source of secondary offense that this team coveted. The real question is whether we'll see him continue to average this type of statistical output, at 0.86 points per game, throughout the remainder of the year.
At this point, there aren't too many signs pointing to him regressing. He's not scoring goals at an absurd pace, and is actually directly in line with his career shooting percentage, at 11.6% for the season. In continuing to develop and maintain the superb chemistry with Patrick Kane, the team's leading goal scorer, the assists should continue to come as well. And when you're talking about a team that out-possesses and out-chances their opponent as well as the Blackhawks do (tops in the league in a variety of categories and probably a subject of a future article here), it's difficult to see that changing as well.
The bottom line is this: I've been banging the Kris Versteeg drum for quite some time, and now he's finally got people working back towards earning their trust in him again. This isn't an aberration. It took him some time to get back to top form, and we're witnessing the results of this now. Don't expect it to change. He's an asset to this team, and I'm loving every second of it.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.