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Versteeg thriving in Florida, hopes to put down roots

by Alain Poupart
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Kris Versteeg looks like he might get his wish.

Despite having three 20-goal seasons on his resume at the age of 25, Versteeg has been traded four times in his career, including three times in a span of 366 days.

Versteeg doesn't want to become a hockey nomad. He wants to stay in one place for a while, and his performance this season has given the Florida Panthers every reason to keep him around.

Kris Versteeg
Right Wing - FLA
GOALS: 22 | ASST: 26 | PTS: 48
SOG: 138 | +/-: 5
Given an expanded role with the upstart Panthers, Versteeg has responded with a team-high 22 goals, a total that ties him for 17th in the League.

Versteeg has needed only 53 games to match his career high, and he's on pace to become Florida's first 30-goal scorer since David Booth had 31 in 2008-09.

"I've always expected to be a player that can play good minutes and play in certain situations," Versteeg said. "I've been given the opportunity here, where in the past you haven't been given it. It's been fun this year, you've been getting a lot of trust put into you by the coach, so that helps."

Paired with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann on Florida's top line, Versteeg is averaging a career-high 20:33 -- almost three minutes more than he averaged last season when he split time between Toronto and Philadelphia.

Versteeg matched his career high with a power-play goal in Sunday afternoon's 4-1 victory over the Islanders. It was his second goal in two games and his fifth in eight games.

"It's been fun to play with a guy who's been hot like that," Weiss said. "I'm just trying to get him the puck and go to the net and let him and Flash (Fleischmann) do their thing."

Versteeg's performance hasn't been a major surprise for Dale Tallon, who's been a fan of his since the two were in Chicago together.


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When Tallon set out to rebuild the Panthers, a large part of his plan -- if not the biggest -- involved collecting high draft picks and stockpiling blue-chip prospects. But he made an exception with Versteeg.

Tallon traded not one, but two second-round picks to get Versteeg from Philadelphia last summer.

"When I acquired Kris, I knew we were getting a skilled and gritty player who would add energy every night to our lineup," said Tallon, who also brought Versteeg to Chicago when he traded for the then-AHL player. "He also has an incredible personality both on and off the ice, and I am very pleased with his performance this season."

The outgoing Versteeg sang during the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup parade in 2010 and he did the same at a charity auction the Panthers held early in the season.

Versteeg said that Tallon asked him to sing when the Panthers held a press conference in early July to introduce their group of newcomers.

Versteeg's response? Let's wait until we win another Stanley Cup together.

That's the goal in Florida, where the Panthers are on track to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2000 season. And with the organization loaded with high-end prospects, the future does look bright in South Florida.

Versteeg clearly wants to be a part of it. He's scheduled to become a restricted free agent next summer, but he said he and Tallon already have had discussions about a new contract.

"We've kind of implied it toward one another that we both want to do something and get something done," Versteeg said. "Now it's about just getting it done. It's something I want obviously really bad. I don't want to move anywhere else. It's tough to travel from team to team and try to get comfortable over a year into their system. To get production every year is tough when you're going from team to team. I'd like to stay in one spot, get used to a group of guys and start a core group of guys here and try to win here."
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