Kristopher Versteeg has been a welcome addition to the Maple Leafs' blueline on the power play. He had three power-play goals in Toronto’s victories last week over Nashville and New Jersey.
It is not the first time however that Versteeg has been asked to be a defenceman. As a 19-year-old junior, playing for the Red Deer Rebels a familiar name moved him from forward to D for 30 games. Brent Sutter now head coach of the Calgary Flames was Versteeg’s coach in Red Deer. Some NHL scouts mentioned to me they actually preferred Versteeg on the blueline versus forward at the time.
Since his junior days, Versteeg has played as a defenceman on only two other occasions, both times as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks last season.
With Versteeg’s limited time on the blueline, you have to think his junior experience has helped him adapt to his new power-play role. When I asked him about his junior time, he agreed that it has certainly helped him as a player.
There was however another interesting lesson that he shared with me. During his junior blueline time, he learned to appreciate what a defenceman experiences, for instance how difficult it is when a forward is not in the correct position to receive a pass. Ever since those days, Versteeg says he always tries to get available for his defence on breakouts!
There is more to this story. From the start of his minor hockey career until the age of 10, Versteeg was not a forward but a defenceman. My thoughts were originally just to write about Versteeg’s smooth transition to the back end on the power play with the Leafs. But there is a bigger picture to this. Versteeg is a versatile player that you can use in many different situations.
I really believe that his development from day one playing both defence and forward has had a direct impact on the player he is today.
Some minor hockey parents prefer their children to play centre instead of defence. They get upset when the coach wants to put their child on the blueline. As well, when minor hockey coaches suggest that the kids should play all positions at a young age often the parents are upset. For every minor hockey parent that doesn’t think that kids should play all positions at a young age, or you don’t want your child to be a defenceman, perhaps you may want to rethink your thoughts.
Just ask Kristopher Versteeg!