This Version of Kris Versteeg Might Actually Work
Kris Versteeg spent much of the series against the Minnesota Wild getting under the skin of the Blackhawks' opponent. Can this version stick around for a while longer?
When Kris Versteeg was re-acquired by Stan Bowman from the Florida Panthers earlier this year, in a deal that cost them lower impact prospects and had the Cats paying a healthy portion of his salary, Bowman was lauded as a genius once again. One of the best general managers in the game flat out stole a player capable of scoring 20+ goals not only in returning minimal value, but getting Dale Tallon to pay a significant chunk of his salary.
Yet, as the season wore on, specifically as the calendar turned into the spring months, Versteeg has found himself as one of the more polarizing players in the entire city. His inconsistency has led to him serving as a healthy scratch during these Stanley Cup Playoffs and the new whipping boy for the entire fanbase, given that most have acknowledged that Brandon Bollig is an inevitability regardless of how much complaining actually takes place.
Versteeg's numbers aren't great and he's spent the season with the Hawks bouncing from the top line down to the bottom line and everywhere in between. He finished with 29 points in 63 games in his return to the Hawks, including 10 goals and a plus-9 rating. His possession numbers don't paint the prettiest of pictures (as examined by our friend JenLC here), especially given his lower Quality of Competition compared to several other Hawk forwards.
There are no shortage of frustrating aspects in Versteeg's game. He dumps the puck in more often than he should, as the dump-and-chase game typically does not benefit the club, and he often looks for the pass rather than getting the puck to the net. His penchant for over-stickhandling has also drawn the ire of many a Blackhawks fan.
However, during this recent stretch of play in the Minnesota Wild series, we actually saw some pretty positive things out of Kris Versteeg that may help him to inch out of the doghouse of the collective Chicago Blackhawks fanbase. During Game 4 & Game 5, his possession numbers looked much better, particularly in Game 5, where his CF% was at 72.7, giving him a relative CF% of +19.0%. Game 6 was ugly, but the possession numbers for the team overall were horrid, for the most part, despite the win.
Versteeg's goal in Game 6 that put the Blackhawks up 1-0 early certainly tilted things a bit in his favor, but watching Versteeg on the ice, he's making an impact in another way. His recent stretch has included more of an agitating presence. Throughout much of the latter half of these series, we saw him constantly bumping players after the whistle and getting right in the middle of the scrums, managing to piss off several Wild players throughout the series, probably Ryan Suter more than any other.
This is the type of role in which Kris Versteeg has the chance to be very successful. In playing aggressive like this, we saw his play actually improve. Whether or not there is a true correlation isn't that easy to discern, given the small sample size of his recent success and the fact that there's not a metric for GRIT. Nonetheless, Versteeg has the ability to get under the skin of opponents, while bringing a secondary offensive presence to the Blackhawks. As we get deeper into this postseason, encouraging him to take on that type of presence in the lineup would probably be in the coaching staff's best interest.
Despite his struggles at times over the course of the season, there is still plenty of value in a guy like Kris Versteeg. His teammates like having him around, and when he's on, he makes this team even better. There are plenty of boneheaded flaws in his game, the puck dumping, overpassing, and failed fancy play top the list, but this recent stretch has helped to illustrate the type of role Versteeg may want to take on in order to be most successful in his second stint with the team.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.