Being born in Alberta, children may choose: Oilers or Flames.
For Kris Versteeg, he was never given the option. That decision was made for him before he could hold his head up on his own.
When he was born, a Calgary Flames game was on the hospital television. Versteeg’s mother told the staff to turn it off.
“She said the first hockey game she wanted me to see was an Oilers game.”
And that was that. His father’s admiration of Wayne Gretzky, and his mother’s passion for the orange and blue rubbed off on the young Versteeg. There are numerous childhood photos of him in Oilers gear. His clothes had the Oilers logo stitched on them.
“And my socks as a kid… I’d only wear Oilers.”
The Lethbridge, AB native is no longer a wide-eyed, Oilers-loving child. He’s an NHL veteran with more than 500 games of experience. But he has an opportunity now to make his childhood team.
The Oilers signed Versteeg to a PTO Friday. The moment of stability was welcomed by the two-time Stanley Cup champ, who has had a “whirlwind” few days. Due to an issue with the insurance coverage offered in the Swiss League, Versteeg, who planned to play for Bern this season, chose to come back to North America.
“It’s nothing bad or anything, but for myself it was (about) being fully protected if something happened,” Versteeg said.
And so coming back to North America meant fielding PTO offers from numerous clubs, and weighing his options. In comes Edmonton, a team interested in adding Versteeg’s veteran presence to its mix of young forwards and willing to give him a chance to make their roster in camp.
“The youth, the direction they’re going and hopefully I can really work my way in there and earn a contract and be a part of that,” he said.
Versteeg sat down with his agent and went through each interested team’s roster. The Oilers provided the best opportunity for a winger looking to play with the right supporting cast.
“I look at it as down the middle is a big part,” Versteeg said. “If I could crack this team and earn a contract, I feel if you look at their top guys you could pick your poison with which centreman you get to play with. (Leon) Draisaitil, (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins or (Connor) McDavid are a very special group of forwards down the middle. It makes wingers excited because everything really goes through there. That was a big thing when I looked at it. The other part was the draw of being a part of what they want to do there and being a part of the solution.”
|Photo by Getty Images. |
Versteeg is close friends with fellow Lethbridge native and Oilers defenceman Brandon Davidson, and newly-signed forward Milan Lucic. The two of them already in Edmonton also provided Versteeg with an incentive to sign.
For the Oilers, Versteeg provides some healthy, veteran competition down their lineup. Versteeg has played 550 regular season NHL games since being selected in the fifth round of the 2004 Draft by Boston. He also has 89 games worth of Stanley Cup playoff experience, and two Stanley Cup championships with the Chicago Blackhawks.
In the Oilers locker room, that could be much-needed and appreciated veteran experience, but don’t expect Versteeg to come in firing with advice and critique.
“I’m not a guy who is going to go out there and tell guys what to do,” he said. “I’m more of a guy who will joke around and try to keep things loose and not in an overbearing way – I hope – either.”
Versteeg is admittedly a stirrer of the pot, a jokester, a prankster and a team-first guy. He’s not one for locker room speeches.
“For myself, it’s basically just be who I am. Obviously, I’ll be there to talk to guys if they ever need me. I’ve always been someone like that who tries to get the best out of everyone that way and in turn I think it gets the best out of myself. There’s a lot of young guys there but I’m not going to ever go tell a guy what to do. McDavid and these guys know what to do themselves. It’s just about playing the game the way I know I can and being there as more an ear to listen or a shoulder to lean on than someone to go tell them what to do.”
Although he’s not the most vocal of figures in an NHL locker room, Versteeg does recognize what it takes to win and that can be invaluable. That, along with his production in the League, make him an intriguing add to the mix.
Signing a PTO with Edmonton is a chance for Versteeg to continue an already established NHL career. His mother chose the Oilers for him when he was a baby, and now he’s hoping the team chooses him back.