Versteeg under the radar

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

With Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane garnering most of the attention, Kris Versteeg has a tendency to fly under the radar.

But, as the leading rookie scorer in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks forward is a strong candidate to win the Calder Trophy.

He was supposed to play in the YoungStars game at the all-star weekend but had to miss it due to a finger injury.

"I was pretty excited to play in it," he said. "My best buddy (Devin Setoguchi) was playing in it as a sophomore. It was pretty tough not to be able to play in it. But they let me sit on the bench and be a part of it, that was pretty amazing."

Before last night, Versteeg had 38 points in 45 games, four more than Anaheim Ducks rookie Bobby Ryan.

"To tell you the truth, I haven't thought a lot about (being rookie of the year). There are a lot of good guys out there," Versteeg said. "I haven't even looked to see where I am among the rookies. I'm just having a lot of fun with everything and trying to help the Blackhawks win."

A fifth-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2004, Versteeg, 22, was traded to the Blackhawks midway through the 2006-2007 season for right-winger Brandon Bochenski. He played 13 games with Chicago last season, spending the majority of his time with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL.

"I never got a shot in Boston, but I think it was coming around to my turn," Versteeg said. "But they were on the outside looking in at the playoffs and were looking for an older guy to help them where they thought a young guy couldn't.

"But I loved my time there, especially in Providence. Scott Gordon, who was coaching there at the time, was absolutely sensational for me."

In the Blackhawks, Versteeg came to the perfect team. They were on the rise with young talent, and poised to make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.

"The funny thing is that we all kind of played against each other somewhere down the line," Versteeg said. "There are not many Europeans on this team and we have a lot of Canadians and Americans. I think that made it a lot easier for guys coming into the room - they had played with other guys before."

A Lethbridge native, Versteeg played his junior hockey with the hometown Hurricanes before moving on to play with the Kamloops Blazers, then the Red Deer Rebels.

"That year I was supposed to put up good numbers, but I ended up playing defence," Versteeg said.

"That was a year where I think I could have been one of the top scorers in the league.

"I actually think it helped me out a lot and in my own end, figuring out where I was going to be on the ice."

Recently returned from a finger injury, Versteeg was moved from the wing to centre on a line between Kane and Dustin Byfuglien.

He scored a goal and added an assist in a 4-2 win against the San Jose.

"We tried something new there - he's a very versatile player," said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. "His first time at centre, he did well. We use him in a lot of ways.

"He looked comfortable at centre, so we'll see how that progresses, so it's been good."

Versteeg was originally drafted as a centreman, but was moved to the wing.

"I'll play wherever they want me to, it doesn't really matter, as long as I can get in the lineup and help the team win," Versteeg said.

"I played (centre) a little bit in Providence when four or five guys had been called up, but that was about it."


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