Trades that involve veteran players usually don't get made until much closer to the trade deadline, so making the move in the first quarter of the season was fairly shocking. But Versteeg is not just a forward who can score 20 goals. That's what he was for the Panthers, but he can be much more valuable for the Blackhawks.
Versteeg was acquired, along with forward Philippe Lefebvre, for young forward Jimmy Hayes and defenseman Dylan Olsen.
In addition to filling a spot at left wing on the third line next to center Andrew Shaw, Versteeg can play center or right wing if head coach Joel Quenneville wants him to. Jeremy Morin had been playing right wing with Versteeg and Shaw, but he was sent down to the Rockford Icehogs—Chicago's American Hockey League affiliate—on Nov. 26.
Versteeg's versatility is one of the most valuable aspects of this trade. He acts as insurance for rookie second-line center Brandon Pirri. If Pirri gets hurt or he doesn't work out over the long haul—Pirri has six goals and five assists along with a plus-five rating through 20 games—Versteeg can move comfortably into that role.
Versteeg played some center in his first go-round with the Blackhawks, and he's the kind of player that Quenneville appreciates because he doesn't have to be locked in to one position.
General manager Stan Bowman was quick to make the move because he knew Quenneville would approve.
“One of the things Joel has always preached, he likes forwards who can play a couple different ways,” Bowman told Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times. “We can use him in a lot of different places. Having that depth is critical to go a long way in the playoffs.”
In addition to playing any position on the forward line, Versteeg can also play on the penalty kill. That means a player like Marian Hossa doesn't have to burn up his energy killing off penalties.
That may be vital as the season moves along.
One of the keys to both of the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup runs was having a healthy and revitalized Hossa. If Hossa gets worn out during the regular season, that will not help the Blackhawks as they try to make it three Stanley Cups in five seasons.
A main reason that Bowman was able to make the deal was that the Blackhawks don't have to take the full cap hit for Versteeg's $4.4 million salary. The Panthers are paying half of that amount, and that could leave the Hawks in a position to acquire another role player closer to the trade deadline.
Versteeg is not a perfect player by any means. Blackhawks fans will remember Versteeg's tendency to turn the puck over at center ice—an aspect of his game that he did not clean up while playing for Philadelphia or Florida.
What role is Kris Versteeg best suited for with the Blackhawks?
Versteeg has one goal and three assists in his first six games back with the Blackhawks, along with a minus-one rating.
He has not set the world on fire, but he is thrilled to be back in a Chicago uniform.
“I said if there’s ever a chance, I would love to come back,” Versteeg told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It obviously happened, and I’m really excited about it. I’ve got hopefully a lot of years ahead of me, and hopefully it’s as a Blackhawk. It’s where my heart is.”
Versteeg will be asked to play several roles for the Blackhawks, and he just may be up for each of them.