CHICAGO – Kris Versteeg has come to understand how fragile confidence can be.
Before Sunday, Versteeg had been relegated to being either a healthy scratch or a fourth-line skater during the Blackhawks’ first 10 playoff games. When he was on the ice, his play had been underwhelming, registering two assists and a minus-1 rating in seven games.
But before Sunday’s Game 5 of a Western Conference semifinal series against the Minnesota Wild, Versteeg was reinserted into the Hawks’ lineup, finding himself on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell. After gaining a new perspective of the game as a spectator for much of the postseason, Versteeg maintains his confidence hasn’t been shaken.
He says he’s fine. That he believes in his ability and that if given an opportunity, he can be effective. Now, he knows the key is proving it.
“You obviously want to play,” Versteeg said. “But you also understand that you’re trying to be part of a team here and whatever it takes to win, you understand and you take it in stride.”
Versteeg’s addition to the lineup was part of a personnel shake-up that also placed Peter Regin on the fourth line. In back-to-back losses to the Wild in Minneapolis, the Hawks scored only two goals and were held in check by a team that has proved it can limit the Hawks’ offensive effectiveness.
Versteeg, who had 10 goals and 19 assists in 63 regular-season games after being acquired from Florida in November, believes he can be a valuable addition to the Hawks’ top line.
After being demoted, he said he tried to watch the game from an “outsider’s perspective,” looking for little nuggets he can add to his game to make him more effective once he returned to the ice.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville made it clear Sunday morning what he wants from Versteeg now that he has returned to the ice.
“We’re looking for more directness in his game, more pace,” Quenneville said after the morning skate. “We were ready to start him at the beginning of the [Minnesota] series, and he was sick. We want to get him up to speed, where he’s contributing with the puck, without the puck, influencing both ways and have more speed in his game.”
Versteeg said establishing pace against the Wild isn’t easy. Minnesota has found a way to slow the game, cutting the edge off the Hawks’ deep talent pool. Now paired with Toews and Bickell, Versteeg knows it’s up to him to help deliver some of the quickness that has been lacking over the past two games.
He admits, however, that can be easier said than done against the Wild.
“Obviously, I bring skill and maybe [being] tenacious on the puck,” Versteeg said. “That’s just always the way I have played ... with an offensive style and trying to be good in my own zone. I’m just going to try to bring an all-around game that I’ve always been able to do.”