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Kris Versteeg cannot afford to falter again

Kris Versteeg will be back into the lineup against the Dallas Stars on Saturday night. This comes just a game after he served as a healthy scratch against the New York Rangers, a day after almost spending time exploring the press box spread against the New York Islanders. As good as Versteeg was early in the year, this particular situation is certainly a concerning one.

Versteeg very nearly played his way out of Chicago after last season. A move that was initially lauded by fans and media alike, Versteeg fell off at the tail end of last season and wound up spending time as a healthy scratch at key moments in the playoffs, giving a strong indication of just how poor he had played. His lack of pace, poor decision making, and attempt to over stickhandle were all factors.

Of course, at that point, Versteeg was beginning to burn out given that he hadn’t had a real offseason the summer before. He had spent the majority of the summer rehabbing his knee injury, and that certainly took its toll in the tail end of last season. Yet, Versteeg doesn’t have a similar excuse here. Sure, he’s faced injury this season, but it isn’t the type of thing that should be contributing to his issues now.

According to head coach Joel Quenneville, the Blackhawks need more speed and pace, as well as what appeared to equate to more overall effort from the veteran forward. Prior to his hand injury suffered in the Winter Classic, Versteeg was demonstrating a clear rebound from the previous year. He had 27 points prior to the injury on January 1st, with the line of Versteeg, Brad Richards, and Patrick Kane performing as one of the better lines in hockey for a stretch. Versteeg and Richards have since fallen off quite a bit, while Kane is still out with a broken collarbone.

Versteeg is doing a lot of what he did last year that frustrated so many. He’s not making the greatest of decisions with the puck and has returned to trying to do too much with it. When he kept things simple earlier in the year, we saw him at his best. The player that Versteeg was for the first few months of the season is a player that could be around for quite a bit longer.

With another year left on his deal, Versteeg has a chance to solidify himself into the Hawks’ future plans. He’s extremely affordable for what he has the ability to bring to the ice. However, with the Blackhawks facing a cap crunch in the upcoming summer, Versteeg could prove a casualty if he doesn’t get his game back on track. At this point, he doesn’t have the luxury of slipping back into the mode in which he was at the end of last season.

Versteeg will be back into the lineup on Saturday night. He still has a large opportunity to get things back on track and demonstrate that early in the year wasn’t any sort of fluke. Utilizing his speed effectively, while at the same time simplifying things, should get him back where he needs to be and get him locked in for a spot on this team next year, at the very least. He has the tools to be a successful, two-way forward. He just needs to use them.

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.

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