The Oilers signed Kris Versteeg to a PTO (Professional Tryout) last Friday. The 30-year-old will come to camp and try to earn a contract and spot on the right wing. He had 15 goals and 38 points last season, split between Carolina and Los Angeles. He’s played 550 NHL games and 89 playoff games, winning two Stanley Cups as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Versteeg is an intriguing player. He is very versatile and can play both wings and anywhere in your lineup. I had him on my radio show after he signed and he sounded very excited for the opportunity to play in Edmonton.
We discussed his recent release/void contract from Bern, leadership, being a prankster and the challenge of coming to camp on a PTO.
Jason Gregor: Everyone thought that you
were playing in Europe, and then the contract was void. What happened?
Kris Versteeg: It’s hard to explain unless
you understand the insurance issue, but basically there is illness coverage and
there is injury coverage and I had a previous surgery a while ago and so they
see potential injury there so they consider it not a full insurance coverage.
So I was supposed to assume the risk and we talked about it, and I didn’t want
to assume the risk if something happened. And then we just moved on. I came to
camp one hundred percent healthy, I never missed a game in four years and it’s
just the way that it is. No hard feelings, it is business. I think they got
stung a couple of times last year with that and we just moved on from it. I’m
excited now to come back and hopefully this is a blessing in disguise for
Before you signed in Bern did you have any feelers from NHL teams?
Versteeg: Yeah I had offers. The first day of
free agency I had an offer. I had a lot of talks and a lot of interest but at
the time my wife was pregnant, we just had our second baby near the end of
August so when it came down to it I really wanted to know where I was going to
be. I wanted to know what I was doing before we had our kid so I could be
settled for this season. Bern called and we talked about it and felt it was great.
I was there for a week and it was great. It obviously didn’t work out which
kind of sucks for both sides, but in the end it was about trying to make a decision
for my family and for me. Now it’s great in that I get a chance to try to make
a hockey club near my home town.
I’m assuming a few other teams offered you a professional try out, why did you
Vertsteeg: Yeah, we had a lot of teams
interested in PTOs and talked about them all. Me and my agent kind of sat back
and talked about where a good fit for me would be if I could make the lineup
and earn a contract. For me the big thing was if I come and play and get to
play with guys around me and seeing the calibre of players here was very
exciting. Another thing was it being near home, and trying to play in front of
my friends and family.
Everywhere I’ve played has been pretty far
away and this is a pretty exciting time with the Oilers with the new players
coming in and the new building and everything, so it seemed like a good place for
me to try my luck and put my best foot forward and try to help be a solution
for the organization to get back to the playoffs.
There is the Connor McDavid factor, the brand new arena and also I’m sure the
lack of experience on the right wing?
Versteeg: Yeah we talked about openings too
on teams. This team has a lot of talent, it’s full throughout the lineup with a
lot of good players, so I’m going to have to work hard to earn a job here and
that’s what I expect to do. I expect to go out and earn a spot and I’m excited
about the challenge, but like you said, they have Connor McDavid.
I’ve been fortunate enough in my time in
the NHL to play with some pretty amazing players and see them up close so I’m
excited about seeing him at camp whenever the World Cup of Hockey stuff is
over. It’s always exciting being around those guys. They push you to be better
every day and like you said, the depth on the right side. I’ve played both wings
so it’s wherever the coach sees fit, that’s where I’m going to try my best and
try to succeed and become a part of the team, and sign and deal in whatever
position they want me to play.
Are you more comfortable on the right side?
Versteeg: I think that I’ve played equally
left and right wing. Chicago it was almost shift to shift I would change left
to right, or week to week. A lot of the time when I played with Patrick Kane it
was left wing or when you play with [Jonathan] Toews it would be right wing. When
I played in Toronto it was right winger, if I played in Philly it was left
wing. It’s always changed from team to team or where they see me fit in their
lineup trying to get me ice time or minutes so that’s kind of like here.
Wherever the coach sees fit I’m going to try my best at that position. I know I
can play wherever because I’ve done them both and it’s wherever he feels to put
It’s not easy playing with highly skilled players. You have to be able to think
the game like they do. You mentioned Kane and Toews and those two are very
different. Kane might be the best player with the puck on his stick in the
offensive zone in the entire National Hockey League, where Toews is an
incredible two way player and really good offensively but attacks differently
than Kane. How did you learn to think and see the game and play with skilled
players and be a good complementary guy on those lines?
Vertseeg: Yeah, I think that that has been
something I have always prided myself on. I think I have a pretty good hockey
IQ. I think the game well and for Kaner he’s so cerebral and he sees so many
plays ahead and he can also do it with his athleticism so for playing with him
it was a lot of a thinking man’s game. Playing with Toews, it was more just a
straight ahead game, grind it out and find ways to get to the net. I’ve played
with different superstars who brought different things to the table and I think
it’s helped my game. I always try to get better every year and think of ways to
stay in the league. You’ve got to stay in the league somehow and you’ve got to
evolve and become a player that anyone can rely on in any situation.
Like I said for myself, you always have to
change it up, whoever you’re with but it’s about bringing the best out of them
while bringing the best out of you at the same time.
Gregor: You have a lot of experience and a reputation
of being a good team guy, a fun guy in the room, and the Oilers have had a
fairly quiet locker room. Now they brought in Milan Lucic, who is vocal, but
can you discuss the importance of making the room fun, but also one that has a
lot of chatter.
Versteeg: Yeah, that’s a big thing. I’ve
said it before, I’m not a guy who is going to go up to anyone and tell them how
to play. I think everyone gets to this level for a reason. I’m more of a guy
who hears someone out if they have a question or a guy to joke around with.
I think that I give guys their space. I don’t want to be over invasive or
anything like that. I like to joke around and realize on a daily basis that
it’s a grind and that you have to have a little fun in-between. It’s about
finding that fine line though between everything and trying to give everybody
their space. I’m not going to change who I am as a person. I want to be me and
I want to be real and it’s about enjoying every day and trying to get the best
out of everyone in anyone you can.
FUN GUY IN ROOM
Now you have a bit of a reputation of being the fun prankster in Chicago. Was
it you and Patrick Sharp as the running mates?
Versteeg: Yeah, there was a little of
different guys, but Sharpy did a lot more of that. I don’t know if I was so
much the prankster as just, well I was pranking… but… yeah (laughs). It was a
bit of everything.
But that stuff is important, and maybe when you’re winning it’s easier because
guys are more lighthearted or not but you’ve played on winning teams and you’ve
played on teams that have struggled. Is it important regardless of the winning
or is it naturally easier to do that stuff (pranks) when the team is winning?
Versteeg: It is definitely easier. Winning
changes everything. I mean it’s just easier to come to the rink every day and
be happy. I know this is such a high pressure league and high pressure
situation all of the time so winning eases that, but even in tough times you’ve
got to look for it. The games come so fast and you play every night and if
you’re going to ride a roller coaster you’re not going to be too good, so
you’ve got to try to stay even keel while enjoying yourself at the same time. But winning always helps everything.
Gregor: You mentioned you’re not a guy who
is going to go and tell guys how to play the game specifically because they’re
skilled enough. However, Edmonton has gone a decade without the playoffs and
really the last seven years they haven’t even been close. You‘ve seen the
league, they’ve been out of it by January.
They’ve got a lot of young skilled players,
but Todd McLellan has talked about how they need guys to make the right play
more consistently. If players are making the same mistake time after time and
you’re one of the veteran guys on the team do you have to go over and in the
right fashion address it?
Versteeg: Um… I don’t know if, that’s still
not me. I’m not going to address anything in that way. I think you kind of let
the coaches do that. I think that if I’m on the ice as a linemate we’ll talk
about it, you know. I’ll always be vocal in how to get the best out of my
linemates and they will with me too I hope. You always try to talk about the
situations in order to minimise the time in your D zone, or maximize you time
in the offensive zone. So I think talking like that with your linemates that
always can help in trying to get the best out of each other but I’ve never been
that guy really and I’m not going to try to pretend to be that guy ever.
I’m a guy who likes to focus on my game while at the same time trying to lead
by example in whatever way I can ,but as I’ve said before, if someone has a
question or wants to talk I’ll definitely give my two cents if they want an
answer. However, some guys are really comfortable calling guys out or being a
voice in the room, and I know Lucic is. He is a guy who can do that and if you
are going to do that you still have to show by example and lead by example and
he’s a guy who can do that. I’ve seen it in LA, I’ve known him for twelve, thirteen
years. Some guys can do it, I’m a guy who I just have to shut my mouth and I’ll
talk with guys, but it’s not about me going and doing that.
But it is important to have certain guys in the room like a Lucic or others who
are capable of doing that at certain times?
Verteeg: I agree. There are guys who will
do that because you still have to play your game within the game. It’s really
tough; it’s hard to assume that role to be a captain and to be able to call
someone out and then go out and play your game is a really tough thing. So guys
can do that, and I mean Lucic is a great guy that can and you definitely have to
have that on a successful team. But I think that coaching these days is so good
and they’re so on top of things and they have a lot of guys on the bench that
really reinforce things more than anything, so I think it lets players play more
than when I first came into the league especially.
You’re one of the best guys I think to answer this question because in the
middle of seasons you’ve went from the Eastern Conference to the Western
Conference. You’ve gone from Florida to Chicago and then Carolina and into Los
Angeles. Is there a noticeable difference from conference to conference and do
you find one suits your game better than the other?
Vertsteeg: I think there [are] differences,
little bits, maybe just the way that teams are built. In the end every team is
so good. I think the difference was maybe a few years ago maybe the East was a
little bit faster and the West was a little bit bigger, but I think that a lot
has to do with travel and the way that you have to play the game. The West is a
little bit tougher but now everybody plays everybody so the travel is tough for
everyone, so I don’t know per se if the hockey is so much different. Maybe the
Central Division being the strongest for sure last year where every team was in
the playoff run, that’s different. But for the most part every division I would
say is pretty even and every team was tough to beat on every night.
I know you’re a forward but if my memory is correct didn’t you play some defense
with Red Deer in the Western Hockey League?
Versteeg: (Laughs) yeah that’s right. When
I came over, Brent [Sutter] was about to go coach the World Juniors. They put
me on defense and I stuck the whole season. So as a nineteen year old I played
D most of the year. You know with Brent I think it really helped me to see the
game in a different way. It was a learning experience, it was something tough
because at those times you’re young and you want to go out and light it up and
sign for money and you want to be at your best. It was a very humbling
experience, but it was an experience where got to put defensive thinking into my game and
use it as a positive and it’s helped me in the end more than I think that it
would have if I didn’t play defense.
Have you ever played the point on the power play?
Versteeg: Yeah I played it in Toronto and a
little bit in the minors and (laughs)… I’ve pretty much played everywhere.
I ask that because in Edmonton there are not a lot of right shots and there is
definitely not a lot of right shot offensive guys for the power plays. Would you
be comfortable on the second unit power play on the point potentially, not
necessarily the quarterback, but playing the other point?
Versteeg: Yeah, I’m pretty much comfortable
if I get into a situation. It’s really wherever the coach sees you’re
comfortable. I think he instills that in you and wherever that might be, I’ve
played every position you can on the power play from forward to defense
(laughs), but for me it’s really just about finding the comfortability factor
and working my best within that. I mean I’m confident in my abilities to do it.
Coming to camp on PTO for the first time in your career, how is your mindset
different than when you had a contract entering camp?
Versteeg: I’ve got to go in and play well, there
is pressure but it’s also exciting. It’s exciting to go and earn a job and it’s
something I think players generally don’t want to go through but you’re here,
you deal with the situation and and you move on and you become ready for
whatever presents itself. I’m ready for the challenge and I’m really excited
for the challenge and moving forward and hopefully earning myself a contract. I
know that I’ve dealt with different adversities in my life in different ways
and I will lean on those experiences, but I’m excited about this one. I can’t predict
the future, but I’m excited about trying to get in there and earn my spot.
I really like this signing by Chiarelli. The Oilers still don’t have a lot of experience or depth and adding a veteran who can score and create some competition on the right side was a smart move. During the Decade of Darkness the Oilers continually relied on youngsters to produce. We saw how that worked out, and adding veterans who can play is a wise decision.
I don’t expect Versteeg to be a huge point-producer, but he knows how when to make the right decision and how to play in both ends of the ice. He will give Todd McLellan some much needed experience on the right side.
Unless Versteeg has suddenly lost a step I expect he will sign a one-year contract before the start of the season.
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