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Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Kris Versteeg eyes fresh start with Flyers

By Pierre LeBrun

TAMPA, Fla. -- This time, a fresh start meant a new number.

Kris Versteeg dumped the old No. 32 he wore in Chicago and Toronto and has gone with No. 10 in Philadelphia.

"It was my childhood number," Versteeg said Tuesday morning after his first practice with the Flyers, a day after Toronto traded him to Philadelphia for a pair of 2011 draft picks.

He had wanted to switch to No. 10 last summer in Toronto, but decided against wearing a number that's hanging up in the rafters at Air Canada Centre, that of former captain and legend George Armstrong.

"But then another trade right away and I thought, 'Why not go with something new and fresh and start it off that way,'" Versteeg said.

It is time for Versteeg to turn the page.

The 24-year-old forward just never fit in with the rebuilding Maple Leafs. What looked like such a nice move by Toronto last summer never panned out, as the offensively challenged club tried to turn Versteeg into the first-line player he wasn't. I mentioned during a Hot Stove segment on "Hockey Night in Canada" on Jan. 1 that Versteeg was available for a trade, and I think that caught some people by surprise. But by then, the Leafs had decided he wasn't the right fit. He ended up a third-line player with the Leafs, putting up 35 points (14-21) in 53 games.

"I have a lot of my reasons," Versteeg said when I asked him why he thought it didn't work out in Toronto, but he caught himself before going on. "I thought when I played there, I ended up producing fairly well with the third-line guys. I thought I did my part there, tried to play as hard as I could. ... But I couldn't be happier with where I ended up here with the Flyers."

How could he not be any happier? The Flyers are loaded for bear, and in Philadelphia, Versteeg can resume the role he had in Chicago, a second- or third-line player who can contribute while not being relied upon to be a main offensive force.

"We've got a team that's established and he gets to come in and complement what we have," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday. "Sometimes you make a trade and you put all the burden on that person to change the direction. He gets an opportunity to come into a team that has a lot of talent right now and just add a nice complementary piece."

Versteeg totally digs the comparison between this season's Flyers team to last season's Hawks squad -- both deep and talented.

"I definitely think it's going to be like it was with Chicago," said Versteeg. "It didn't really matter which line you were on there, it was with someone who could produce. And that's what it's like here; there are a lot of special players on this team. I'm definitely excited about a fresh new start with a great organization and a great team."

An obvious fit, long term, would be to put Versteeg with captain Mike Richards on a potent third line that could do damage at both ends of the ice, although Laviolette could tinker for a few games to see what works best.

"If we do go that direction, you end up with a couple of guys who can still put up points and check," Laviolette said of partnering Richards and Versteeg. "[Versteeg is] a pretty versatile player. He does a lot of things; he can play on a lot of different lines and fill different roles. I think he has some offensive skill and maybe he was used more on a checking line in Chicago."

Richards' team saw firsthand just what Versteeg can bring last spring.

"We played against him last year in the [Cup] finals and he was a tough guy to play against," Richards told ESPN.com on Thursday. "He's going to help us out."

Versteeg received text messages from former Hawks teammates Patrick Sharp and Ben Eager (both are also former Flyers).

"They told me all the great things about playing here and all the good guys in the room," said Versteeg. "Just hearing reassurance from guys who have been here and know about it, that made me feel a lot better."

The Flyers are a tight-knit group, a team thriving in first place in the East, so it can be a little daunting to be the new guy.

"I just met him, but everything I've heard about him has been good," Richards said. "Anybody who can help this team win is welcome here."