CHICAGO -- Kris Versteeg has twice been put in the unfamiliar position of being a healthy scratch this season.
It happened once while he was still with the Florida Panthers in November and again with the Chicago Blackhawks during Game 6 of their first round-series with the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. Aside from that, the 27-year-old Versteeg has been an every-game player for much of his career.
“It’s been something new, but it was in Florida one time and obviously this time,” Versteeg said on Wednesday. “It’s something you don’t want to be, but if it is, it is. And you understand why the coaches do it. You just got to gut-check time and find a way to help the team when you can.”
Versteeg’s latest healthy scratch came after having his role diminished throughout the series. He played 29:01 in the Blackhawks’ 4-3 three-overtime loss in Game 1 of the series and then his ice time was 12:42 in Game 2, 11:14 in Game 3, 12:02 in Game 4 and 8:49 in Game 5. He was demoted to the fourth line late in Game 4 and in all of Game 5. Blackhawks rookie Joakim Nordstrom replaced him in Game 6.
Versteeg admitted not playing wasn’t easy considering he’s been a top-6 forward for much of the last six seasons.
“Yeah, that’s obviously tough,” Versteeg said. “I’d be lying to you if you say that you don’t want to be out there helping the team. Every time you get a chance to pull on a jersey, it’s an honor. I know that by missing a full season last year. So I know every time you get the chance to pull on an NHL jersey, it’s something special. It’s something you always want to do.”
Versteeg’s play has varied this season after admittedly coming back too soon from tearing his ACL in right knee last season. He had 10 goals, 19 assists and a plus-9 rating in 63 games for the Blackhawks after being acquired in November.
Versteeg’s possession numbers in the playoffs have fluctuated. He finished the Blues’ series with a 44.2 Corsi percentage (the Blackhawks had 50 shots for and 63 shots against with him on the ice in 5-on-5 situations). He had two assists and a zero rating in the five games.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville thinks Versteeg needs more pace to his play.
“He’s got some experience in his game,” Quenneville said. “I think we’re looking for more speed, more directness and attack type of play, more straight ahead and kind of complimentary to the way our team plays. I thought he was coming on at the end of the year. We’re going to need him as we go along here.”
Versteeg skated with the fourth line during practice on Wednesday and will likely be back in the lineup for Game 1 of their second-round series.
“You just have to get ready for the next one,” Versteeg said. “Obviously you always want to play, but you have to understand what the coach feels and what’s best for the team. It’s something you want to fight through and come back and be a factor in helping the team.
“I know I can still play. When I’m playing good, I can be a help to the team. Right now, it’s just about getting back to that, finding your way, reaching deep down, gut-check time, you know. Hopefully when you get your chance you come through for the guys.”