CANUCKS (29-20-3) AT BLACKHAWKS (33-18-3)
TV: SN, CSN-CH
CHICAGO -- Kris Versteeg is well-practiced returning from injuries, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less excited to return to the lineup for the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Wednesday.
Versteeg went through morning skate fine and will play right wing on the third line against the Vancouver Canucks. It will be his first game since New Year’s Day, when he blocked a shot and left the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic with a broken left hand.
“It’s unfortunate, for whatever reason, but that’s just the way the game goes and you’ve just got to understand that,” Versteeg said. “I’m just excited to get back out and play with the guys again. It’s tough watching. I got the pregame jitters in my bed and during my sleep last night, so you don’t sleep great, but I’m more excited than anything to get back out there.
Versteeg, who struggled last season after having major knee surgery in 2013, also missed the first four games of this season with a lower-body injury. This one happened at a particularly bad time for both him and the Blackhawks, who went 8-7-1 after he left the lineup.
Versteeg, 28, was in the middle of an impressive season prior to getting hurt. He’d scored nine goals, assisted on 18 goals and had a plus-minus rating of plus-14 in 34 games. He was also shifting at left wing on the second line with center Brad Richards and right wing Patrick Kane.
Now, he’ll pick things back up on a checking line playing the other side of the ice.
“I think any type of injury is frustrating in its own way, but you always second-guess or double-think things,” Versteeg said. “A lot of [my injuries] have kind of come for unfortunate reasons and kind of unlucky plays, but it is what it is. It’s part of the game and I understand it. I’ve played the game long enough to know that. Now it’s about how you come back and recover.”
The expectation level is high, especially from Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. He said he doesn’t think it should take too long for Versteeg to attain his previous level of performance and production.
“Let’s hope he can recapture that pace right away,” Quenneville said. “I know he’s been skating and skating well. It looks like he hasn’t missed a beat when I watch him in practices, but I think everybody’s got a different injury. When you come back from certain injuries, I think sometimes you need a little bit more time. This one, we’d expect him to be up to speed right away.”
Activating Versteeg caused the Blackhawks to make a roster move, sending forward Joakim Nordstrom back to Rockford of the American Hockey League, and bumped rookie forward Teuvo Teravainen out of the lineup.
Teravainen, who’d been playing in the spot Versteeg will occupy, will be a healthy scratch after scoring two goals with two assists in 15 games. Rather than bumping him to the fourth line, Quenneville opted for the grit of veteran forward Daniel Carcillo over Teravainen’s skill.
“You have to look at the job description, the lines, and where we’re at,” Quenneville said. “Danny brings something and Teuvo brings a little bit something different, so I think you’re looking for that line to have the purpose of being responsible defensively and bringing energy.”
The Canucks held an optional skate that didn’t include center Nick Bonino, who left a game Monday at the Minnesota Wild after blocking a shot. Bonino left Xcel Energy Center in a walking boot with a lower body injury and likely won’t play.
Two former Blackhawks prospects will play for the Canucks, as defensemen Ryan Stanton and Adam Clendening will form Vancouver’s third pairing. Stanton was claimed off waivers prior to the 2012-13 season, and Clendening was recently traded to the Canucks in exchange for defense prospect Gustav Forsling.
It will be the first NHL game at United Center for Stanton and Clendening, who scored his first NHL goal in a road game with the Blackhawks earlier this season.
Here are the projected lineups:
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins – Linden Vey – Radim Vrbata
Derek Dorsett – Shawn Matthias – Zack Kassian
Ronalds Kenins – Bo Horvat – Jannik Hansen
Alexander Edler – Christopher Tanev
Dan Hamhuis – Luca Sbisa
Ryan Stanton – Adam Clendening
Scratched: Yannick Weber
Injured: Nick Bonino (lower body), Frank Corrado (undisclosed), Kevin Bieksa (broken hand), Brad Richardson (lower body)
Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp – Brad Richards – Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell – Andrew Shaw – Kris Versteeg
Daniel Carcillo – Marcus Kruger – Ben Smith
Duncan Keith – David Rundblad
Niklas Hjalmarsson – Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya – Michal Rozsival
Scratched: Teuvo Teravainen
Injured: Trevor van Riemsdyk (patella surgery), Tim Erixon (lower body)
Status report: Erixon didn’t participate in the skate, but Quenneville said his lower-body injury is minor.
Who’s hot: Hossa has scored the Blackhawks past four goals, spanning the previous two games. His shooting percentage has risen 2.4 percent, to 8.9 percent, after scoring the four goals on five shots.