Kris Versteeg isn’t used to this.
The Blackhawks forward was a healthy scratch just once before in his NHL career, in early November when he was still with the Florida Panthers. On Sunday he was there again, watching from somewhere in the United Center while his teammates played and won Game 6 and eliminated the St. Louis Blues.
It was tough to take.
“I’d be lying to you if you say that you don’t want to be out there helping the team,” Versteeg said following Wednesday’s practice. “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 might get the chance to do it again when the Blackhawks start their second-round series later this week. Versteeg was back among the forward lines on Wednesday, skating at right wing on the fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Michal Handzus. Versteeg was among the lines during Sunday’s warmup, too, before coach Joel Quenneville sat him in favor of Joakim Nordstrom.
While Versteeg said he understood why he was out of the lineup, he didn’t want to discuss it. Quenneville said what the Blackhawks needed from Versteeg.
“We’re looking for more speed, more directness in the attack, (playing) more straight ahead, kind of complimentary to how our team plays,” he said of Versteeg. “He certainly has some experience in his game. I think he was coming on at the end of the (regular season), and we’re going to need him as we go along here.”
Versteeg talked of his struggles in St. Louis. He said the same happened in the spring of 2010, when he had a quiet first round against the Nashville Predators. His game picked up from then on out, however, and he was a key contributor to the rest of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup run.
“I know I can still play,” Versteeg said. “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.”
Versteeg isn’t used to the healthy scratch. He knows he has to improve to keep from experiencing it again.
“I think you have to watch how fired up you get because you don’t want to go out there and do anything stupid. But hopefully it helps me in a positive way, and I just keep building from there,” he said. “You have to play simple. I think it’s about being reliable.”