Brian Burke didn’t wait for the start of free agent shopping to stock the Maple Leafs cupboard with a top-six forward.
The general manager swung a multi-player deal late Wednesday night, adding Kris Versteeg, a multi-faceted starter from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Toronto gives up forward Viktor Stalberg and prospects Chris DiDomenico and Philippe Paradis, while also getting back the rights to unsigned left winger Bill Sweatt, a Hawks second- round pick from 2007.
Versteeg was part of Chicago’s push to youth the past few years that paid off in the 2010 Stanley Cup.
In 79 regular-season games last year, the 5-foot-10 Lethbridge, Alta., native had 44 points to finish sixth in team scoring. He was also a plus-8 with four game-winners and has amassed 11 short-handed points the past two seasons.
Stalberg bounced between the minors and the Leafs this year, Paradis was acquired from Carolina for Jiri Tlusty and spent the year in the QMJHL, while DiDomenico spent much of the year recovering from a gruesome leg injury in the same league.
“I don’t know how the Leafs plan to use Kris,” Chicago general manager Stan Bowman said on a conference call. “But he can do a lot of different things. He played left wing, right wing and a little centre for us. He has a lot of talent. He’s not a big guy (5-foot-10), which is about the only (knock) you can say about him.”
Versteeg was a surprise contender for the Calder Trophy in 2008-09, after coming from Boston in a trade the year before. A quiet rookie, he had 53 points for Chicago and followed that up with 44 last season as a youth oriented Hawks’ lineup made the jump to a championship.
“You’re getting a good kid, with a good attitude there,” Bowman added.
Bowman was reluctant to see Sweatt go as well.
“Speed was his calling card from the day he was drafted,” Bowman said. “We just weren’t able to get him signed.”
Burke merely announced the trade in a press release and then went back to free agent planning without commenting. Earlier in the evening he told QMI Agency that he expected a busy day when bidding commences at noon and that he would not hesitate to chase one of the well known defencemen who are unrestricted, even though the Leafs need much more help up front.
In pre-season, Stalberg looked to be the best member of the Leafs’ rookie (Frat Pack) with NCAA roomates Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson when he led the team in pre-season scoring. But he ended up going back to the Marlies before finishing with 14 points in 40 Leafs games with a minus 13.
DiDomenico was a fifth-round pick from 2007 who had 95 points in the Quebec League in ’07-08. Paradis was doing well in Quebec, too, after the Leafs decided former first-rounder Tlusty needed a new start.