March 23 2012: Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers right wing Kris Versteeg (32) warms up before a game against the Edmonton Oilers at the BankAtlantic Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Kris Versteeg On The Rise In Florida

With Kris Versteeg being an undersized player and being a fifth round draft pick, Kris always had to face an uphill battle to become a professional hockey player. After a four year career in the WHL, Versteeg was selected 134th overall in the 2004 NHL draft by the Boston Bruins. Although he was drafted by the Bruins, Versteeg never got the opportunity to put on a Bruins uniform. After being drafted Kris spent the next two years with the Providence Bruins, which is the Bruins AHL affiliate team. After spending two seasons with Providence, Kris was traded with a conditional draft pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for winger, Brandon Bochenski.  This trade was later viewed as a steal by the general manager of the Hawks at the time, Dale Tallon.

After being traded to Chicago, Kris spent the 06-07 season with the Norfolk Admirals, which was Chicago’s AHL affiliate team at the time. He spent the following season with the Rockford IceHogs, after the Blackhawks switched their minor league affiliates, wanting to have a team closer to home. After only 56 games with the IceHogs, Versteeg got the call to play for the Chicago Blackhawks. In 13 games he scored 4 points. However once he got to the NHL, he was there to stay. In the following year in his first full NHL season Versteeg made his mark. In 78 games he scored 53 points. His performance throughout the year was good enough to get him a nomination for the Calder Memorial Trophy. The Calder trophy is rewarded to the best rookie in the NHL. Other players who were nominated for the trophy that year were winger Bobby Ryan and goaltender for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Steve Mason. Mason ended up winning the award.

After the 08-09 season Versteeg’s entry level contract had expired, which would make him a restricted free agent. However, there was an error within the Blackhawks system, and as a result Versteeg and two of his teammates weren’t given the tender qualifying offer before the leagues official deadline. As a result the NHL Players association decided that they were going to file a grievance. Shortly after all the problems were resolved, Chicago rewarded Kris with a three year 9 million dollar contract.

The following season was another strong season for Versteeg, scoring 20 goals and racking up 44 points. Even though there was a slight drop in his numbers, Versteeg played a huge role for the Blackhawks that season in their march to the Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks finished that season as the 2nd seed in the Western Conference. Kris played a huge role in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring 14 points in 22 games. His fiesty and aggressive play helped the Blackhawks win their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.

The celebration for Kris was short lived as Chicago was forced to trade Versteeg after the 09-10 season due to salary cap issues. Chicago dealt Versteeg and the rights to prospect Bill Sweatt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in return for Viktor Stalberg, Chris DiDomenico, and Philippe Paradis. Versteeg gave the Leafs solid play during his tenure there, however, halfway through the season he was traded for the third time in his career, as Toronto sent him to the team that he and the Blackhawks defeated to win the Stanley Cup, the Philadelphia Flyers.

After finishing the season off in Philadelphia, he was traded to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a second-round pick in either 2012 or 2013 (Panthers choice) and a third-round pick in the 2012 NHL draft. Although he has battled an injury after the All-Star break, Versteeg is having a very solid season with the Panthers. Versteeg has quickly emerged as a rising star in Florida scoring 22 goals in 63 games, which is good enough for second best on the team currently. As the Panthers are making their march towards the playoffs Versteeg is going to have to play a huge role. He is among one of the players on the roster to have previously won a Stanley Cup. So far all of the doubts have only seemed to motivate Versteeg and with the season quickly coming to an end, Versteeg has the opportunity to help the Panthers achieve their goal of not only making the playoffs but also winning their first division championship.

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