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Blackhawks' Versteeg rewarding Quenneville's faith

by Dan Rosen

Chicago Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg is thriving this season in part because coach Joel Quenneville never lost faith in him last season.

"I didn't lose my trust in his ability and his process because of what he's proven," Quenneville said of Versteeg, who has 18 points in 20 games, including 11 points in the past seven entering the game Wednesday at United Center against the St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

"Where we're at today, give him some credit."

Quenneville had no choice but to lower the expectations he had for Versteeg as time wore on last season and it became more apparent that the forward was struggling with his confidence.

Versteeg, acquired by the Blackhawks in mid-November last season, was coming off surgery to repair a torn right ACL in the summer of 2013. Quenneville saw his play waning, a likely result of the operation, rehab and subsequent frustration that came with limited production.

He had 29 points in 63 games for Chicago, but only eight points in 22 games following the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a time that was supposed to rejuvenate Versteeg. Quenneville went as far as making him a healthy scratch during the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round series.

"I knew how good he could be and how good he was, and I know the extent of the injury and how you need a whole year to get back to where you want it to be," Quenneville said. "It wasn't the whole year so I'm like, 'OK, we gave him a lot of opportunities, but we have to win now and somebody else gets a chance.'"

Quenneville said Versteeg showed up at training camp ready to be a difference maker.

"He looked like the [player] we were looking for when we acquired him," Quenneville said. "He was very diligent with his preparation going into the summer and going into the season."

Versteeg said he looks at last season as a success based on the circumstances he was dealing with.

"I wasn't the player I was in prior years, but I still had decent points and I still made offensive contributions," he said Wednesday. "So I knew that when I got healthy again I could try to be even better than that."

A groin injury sustained a day before Chicago opened the season kept Versteeg out of the lineup for the first four games. He started slowly with one goal in his first five games, but he has been producing on a regular basis since.

He's been on fire since joining Brad Richards and Patrick Kane on a line in a 6-2 win against the Dallas Stars on Nov. 16. The line has produced 30 points, including 11 from Versteeg on three goals and eight assists. He has four assists in the past two games.

"He's an amazing player when he's playing to the level where he's confident, he has pace to his game, puck presence, and a real high patience level with pucks, and a real good play recognition," Quenneville said of Versteeg. "[Kane] and Richards are feeding off one another and [Versteeg] is doing the same thing.

"Give him credit, he got himself ready to play, and all three of them look like they could develop into a nice line for us. It's still early, but we like what we see."

Quenneville's support is motivating Versteeg to keep it up.

"It's always nice to have people believe in you," Versteeg said. "That's why you try to go to work and get to be playing your best, because you want to prove them right and that they can take a chance you. Now, it's just about trying to be a consistent player every night and keep getting better every night. That's something I'm trying to do."


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