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Kris Versteeg breaks through for Hawks

by Todd Kimberley
CALGARY, Alberta -- They say rookies, like children, should be seen and not heard.

Clearly, they've never met Kris Versteeg.

The Chicago Blackhawks' first-year forward was named Wednesday as one of three finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the National Hockey League's top rookie, along with goaltender Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets and forward Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks.

Versteeg's teammates are fully aware of his timely offensive contributions -- his 31 assists led all NHL rookies during the regular season. But the Hawks also know that the kid from Lethbridge, Alberta, has never net a karaoke microphone he didn't like.

"You can't get to him. You can't embarrass him," Chicago forward Adam Burish said with a wide grin on Wednesday morning at Calgary's Pengrowth Saddledome. "He wants to get up there and sing. He wants to tell a joke. He wants to tell a story. He wants to do a dance.

"He's been great in this room. He keeps the mood light. He's been fun to be around.
We'll be at a team function and he'll get up and sing karaoke in front of everyone.

"Anytime you want a laugh, somebody will yell over, 'Just start talking Steeger,' and pretty soon everybody will be laughing. He's a character, that's for sure."

Versteeg, 22, is also infamous on the Web for his sharp wit, his memorable locker-room rap sessions, his etiquette-coach grandmother and . . . well . . . all things Glamorous.

"Remember when he was singing Fergie for one of the reporters in Chicago?" chuckled Andrew Ladd. "It's on YouTube, if you want to check it out."

Versteeg has finally broken through, in a big way, during his fourth season of professional hockey. A fifth-round draft choice of the Boston Bruins in 2004, he was dealt to Chicago in February 2007 for Brandon Bochenski.

Versteeg's 53 points were fourth on the Blackhawks during the regular season. The five-foot-10, 180-pound right wing was fourth among NHL rookies in goals (22) and plus-minus rating (+15). He also led the Hawks with four shorthanded goals.
Versteeg and the 'Hawks take on the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night (10 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN) in Game 4 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal, with Chicago leading the series 2-1.

"I didn't expect (a Calder nomination) at all," Versteeg said. "To tell you the truth, I'm still kind of shocked. It's a huge honor, not only for myself, but for my family.

"I had a fairly good season. Not as good as I thought I could have, but all in all, I had a good year. They gave me a great chance, and I had fun with the whole thing. They gave me a lot of ice time coming in as a rookie, and put me in some good situations to succeed. All you can really do is go out there and do your best."

Versteeg is the third Chicago player to earn a Calder nomination in the past two years. Last spring, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were named finalists, with Kane taking home the trophy.

"He's got great puckhandling skills, and he's worked really hard on his game this season. It's great to see him rewarded," said Troy Brouwer, an AHL teammate of Versteeg in Norfolk and Rockford.

"Typically, a rookie's supposed to keep his mouth shut, and not be heard. But he's the complete opposite of that.  He eases the tension in the room . . . the guys have a lot of fun with him."

The NHL's awards show will be broadcast live on June 18 (Versus, CBC) from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas.

"It's a nice compliment to the year he had," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's had a pretty amazing year for a player who looked like he might have been a guy just trying to make the NHL.

"He had the numbers, and was very useful in all areas of his game. It's one of things you should be proud of."

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