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Buffalo Sabres News » News » Versteeg wouldn't trade his role for anything
Versteeg wouldn't trade his role for anything
Versteeg wouldn't trade his role for anything
CHICAGO - Kris Versteeg is living the good life, racing along at left wing on Chicago's No. 1 line with young stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

"Yeah, they're the phenoms," a beaming Versteeg said yesterday morning, following the Blackhawks' day-of-game workout at the United Center. "I just get in there and try to work hard."

Thus far, it's paying off for all three. Versteeg, once Boston's fifth pick, 134th overall, in the 2004 draft, ranked second only to the Blue Jackets' Derick Brassard in rookie scoring with three goals and 12 points in his 13 games prior to last night's meeting with the Bruins. Brassard was at 6-7-13.

A feisty and consistent scorer as a junior in the Western Hockey League, Versteeg turned pro with Boston in 2005-06 and was gaining prominence as a Boston prospect while toiling with Providence (AHL) in 2006-07. But with the varsity desperate to score goals, and a playoff berth still a reasonable expectation, rookie general manager Peter Chiarelli wheeled Versteeg to the Hawks for another minor leaguer, Brandon Bochenski.

"Timing, I guess," said Versteeg, musing over the factors that brought him the Blackhawks in that Feb. 3, 2007, deal. "They needed a playoff spot, and they got an older guy. We were three-quarters of the way through the season, and I gotta say, I was pretty down about it. I was pretty excited at the time about the chance of being a Boston Bruin, and all of a sudden I start all over again at the bottom of a team's prospects list."

Versteeg finished the 2006-07 season in Norfolk, then Chicago's AHL affiliate, and posted a promising 23 points in 27 games. He spent most of last season with Rockford, the club's new team in the AHL, and again kept scoring at an impressive clip (49 points in 56 games), good for a call to the Windy City, where he averaged nearly 16 minutes per game and posted 2-2-4 in 13 games.

"It's not the same when you're called up like that," noted Versteeg, feeling on much more stable footing in this tour with the varsity. "You play a different system in the minors, and then you come up and you need time to adjust to the way a team plays. This has been much, much better this year."

Versteeg and his running mates are the city's sensations, playing nightly in front of crowd in excess of 21,000. The Hawks are decidedly back on the sports map here, after finishing out of the playoffs in nine of the last 10 seasons.

"I am so happy to be here," said Versteeg. "To be here this year, with the rebuilt confidence this team has, it's just tremendous.

Joel Quenneville, who took over behind the Hawks' bench when Denis Savard was fired two weeks into the season, likes Versteeg's game and figures the kid is lucky to be riding with Kane and Toews.

"He's got a nice set of hands, and sees the ice well," said Quenneville. "It's a line that can be effective off the rush, or in tight situations."

Meanwhile, Bochenski toils for the Norfolk Admirals (AHL), where he was playing when the Bruins swapped for him in 2007.

Milan Lucic, who has delivered crushing checks since the start of the season, entered last night's game still without a single bout on his fight card.

"Can't explain it, really," said Lucic. "It just hasn't been there. But I'm not worried about it because I am sure by the end of the season I will be in double figures."

Meanwhile, he'll just keep pounding opponents into the boards, at a frenetic pace. Lucic twice this season has delivered eight hits in a game, and in last Saturday's win over Buffalo his eight hits matched the number of the entire Sabres forward corps.

"I'm just creating room for myself out there," he said. "I think I've been able to get on the forecheck a lot quicker. I feel like I've got more of my strength back, you know, as the season gets on you feel faster and stronger. The big thing for me, you want to try to establish a physical presence, and the best way to do that is to be physical.

"When I play mean and physical, I feel successful."

Lucic's devastating hitting game, linemate Marc Savard said over the weekend, has changed the veteran pivot's game slightly. Savard, who has clever hands, likes to to maintain possession of the puck when leading the attack, preferring to dump the puck in the offensive zone only under duress. But with Lucic at his left side, popping the puck into the big winger's corner can be interpreted as strategy.

"It's good for Looch, and it's good for the team," said coach Claude Julien. "Doing what he does, it creates space and it creates turnovers. A lot of times, because of Looch going in there, the defenseman is on his heels, and it leads to turnovers and offensive chances."

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: November 15, 2008

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Birth Date: 1986-06-08 Age: 22
Birth Place: Bojnice, Slovakia Width: 191 lbs.
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