When Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke brought in Kris Versteeg, he thought he was getting an energy guy who was capable of playing top-six minutes.
While it’s still too early to appoint Versteeg an elite player, it appears as if Burke may have found himself a diamond in the rough who has the potential to be just that: an elite player.
Fresh off the heels of a Stanley Cup victory with the Chicago Blackhawks, Versteeg has established himself as one of the Maple Leafs' go-to guys, setting up plays, lighting the lamp on a consistent basis, solidifying a power play unit that was a disaster last season, and helping to take the Leafs' first line of Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel, and himself to the next level.
Through 79 games with the Blackhawks last season, Versteeg registered a total of 20 goals, 44 points, and 35 penalty minutes. It marked the second consecutive time that Versteeg had hit the 20-goal mark (he scored 22 in 2008-09), albeit mostly on the Hawks' third line.
Given the fact that Versteeg played a more limited role with the Blackhawks, it’s really no surprise that Versteeg is making his mark with the Maple Leafs. Burke said from day one that he felt that Versteeg had more to offer than just a third-line role; thus far, the proof is in the pudding.
With the regular season just two days away, the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking for Versteeg to continue his tremendous preseason. Question is, just how good and how effective can Versteeg be over the 82-game schedule?
Prior to preseason I felt that Versteeg would have a great chance at scoring 30 goals and hitting the 60-point mark. With the benefit of a few preseason games (and yes, I know it’s only preseason), it appears as if a 60-point season will be a walk in the park for Versteeg.
Given the chemistry between Versteeg, Bozak, and Kessel, the unit's ability to capitalize on the power play, and Versteeg’s ability to get open, I suspect he will not only hit the 30-goal mark—we may even see a 70- to 75-point season from Versteeg.
If everything stays on track, Versteeg may emerge as one of the most underrated players in the league this year, especially if he can keep his spot on the first line. That line should see upwards of 20 minutes of action on most nights, which would equate to an increase of just over four minutes per night for Versteeg.
In a season that has many Maple Leaf fans feeling very optimistic, Versteeg may end up stealing the show, which would suit Brian Burke just fine.
Until next time,