Chicago Blackhawks Cannot Afford Sophmore Slump From Kris Versteeg

Michael WagnerSenior Analyst IAugust 26, 2009

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 17:  Kris Versteeg #32 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 17, 2009 in Newark, New Jersey.  The Devils defeated the Blackhawks 3-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

As we inch ever so closely to the return of Chicago Blackhawks hockey, it is about time to start analyzing the players who will be key to the Blackhawks success in 2010.

We will kick off our look around the Chicago Blackhawks roster with Kris Versteeg.

Versteeg is coming of a terrific rookie season in which he recorded 22 goals, 31 assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-15. These impressive statistics gained Versteeg a Calder Trophy nomination and a hefty raise in the off-season.

However, after an impressive season for Kris Versteeg means that in 2010 expectations will be high for the young winger.

You would have to expect that Versteeg will only grow as a player in his second season but as we saw with Jonathan Toews last season, even the greatest offensive talents can struggle.

With the Marian Hossa's injury, the necessity of Versteeg to start out strong is amplified. Hossa was penciled into the top two lines and it was likely that Versteeg would drop to the third pairing however, Hossa's injury changes that.

At first look this is the likely pairings come training camp:

Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane

Kris Versteeg-Dave Bolland-Andrew Ladd

Tomas Kopecky-John Madden-Dustin Byfuglien

Ben Eager-Adam Burish-Troy Brouwer

When you look at these possible line combination you realize that with Hossa out Versteeg takes on the role that Martin Havlat had in 2009.

If Versteeg struggles then it is likely that the 'Hawks will struggle but if he is able to embrace his new role then he could become another young shining stars on the 'Hawks.

That is a lot of pressure to place on a second year guy.

But I believe Versteeg will be able to handle it. Much like Toews, Versteeg is someone who prides himself on his penalty killing abilities and has plenty of confidence.

Now that Versteeg has a full NHL season under his belt expect big things from the skilled wing.

Yes, he will now face stronger competition as he receives more playing time on the top lines but this elevation to the top six allows Versteeg to grow as a player and get more scoring opportunities in 2010.