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What to Expect in 2010-11: Kris Versteeg

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Kris Versteeg has undoubtedly been the prize pick up for the Maple Leafs thus far this offseason. You’ve heard all the basics by now. He’s great in the dressing room, he plays all three forward positions, he produces under pressure and he’s a back-to-back 20 goal scorer. At age 24, these are all impressive qualities, but now the real question is: how he will fare in the Maple Leafs’ system?

The Blackhawks were absolutely stacked in 2009-10, with a ton of prime talent in their top 6. Hossa was recovering from surgery at the beginning of the season though, which lead to Versteeg playing more than a handful of games in a top line role. Nevertheless, this was short lived and Versteeg was bumped down to the third line when Hossa returned. So who did he play with this season? According to the linemate stats at DobberHockey.com, his top 2 line combos in terms of a percentage of his ice time at 5-on-5 were:

17.47%: Dustin Byfuglien – John Madden – Kris Versteeg

11.01%: Andrew Ladd – John Madden – Kris Versteeg

The next highest line combo is a measly 5.05%, so these two combos are the lines he primarily played on at even strength. So how do Byfuglien, Madden and Ladd measure up in comparison to Versteeg’s 20 goals and 44 points? Ladd is the best with 17 goals and 38 points. Byfuglien had the same number of goals, but four less assists for 34 points. Madden is nearing the end of his career and could only manage 10 goals and 23 points this season. Versteeg’s stats are better than all three, but they don’t necessarily jump out at you.

There are a few stats to help gauge the worth of a player in relation to his teammates. Quality of Teammates (QoT) and Quality of Competition (QoC) are deduced by looking at a single player’s On-ice/off-ice +/- (that is, the +/- when you’re on the ice and the +/- of your teammates when you’re on the bench) and comparing it to either their linemates or their competition when on the ice. Versteeg’s QoC was 0.003 (this and future stats are located at BehindtheNet.ca), which basically means that when he’s on the ice, he’s facing competition of roughly his own skill level. Where things get interesting is in looking at his QoT, which is -0.230. If you’re unsure of what that number means, allow me to simplify it for you. It was the worst QoT stat on the Chicago Blackhawks. This correlates to weaker linemates that would be unable to play up to the level of Versteeg.

As I outlined above, Versteeg played more than a few games with higher amounts of ice time than a third liner would typically get. Here is a breakdown of the number of games he played at differing ice time amounts in minutes and his stats therein:

00:00-12:59: 7GP, 1G, 1A, 2PTS

13:00-14:59: 25GP, 3G, 4A, 7PTS

15:00-16:59: 23GP, 6G, 4A, 10PTS

17:00+: 24GP, 10G, 14A, 24PTS

Let’s stretch each of these out to a full 82 game schedule:

00:00-12:59: 82GP, 11G, 11A, 22PTS

13:00-14:59: 82GP, 10G, 13A, 23PTS

15:00-16:59: 82GP, 21G, 14A, 35PTS

17:00+: 82GP, 34G, 47A, 81PTS

So if Versteeg had taken Hossa’s spot on the top line and stayed there the entire season, he could be expected to produce numbers similar to these. The line of thinking here is that Versteeg will be getting between 15 and 20 minutes of ice time day in, day out on this Leafs roster. The difference between the two situations is that of course Bozak/Kadri should not be expected to play the role of Jonathan Toews at this point in their careers. What these stats instead indicate is that Versteeg should at the very least be expected to remain a 20 goal scorer with increased ice time on a lesser team, if not slightly surpass his previous highs.

We’ve now established that Versteeg should be a good offensive weapon for the Maple Leafs for the time being. Now let’s take a look at what can be expected of him on the defensive side of the game during 5-on-5 play. Chicago scored an average of 2.60 goals per 60 minutes while being scored on 2.41 in the same span when Kris Versteeg was on the ice. This leads to a +0.19 for his +/-ON/60. In contrast, Chicago scored 2.77 times per 60 minutes while suffering 2.27 goals against when Versteeg was on the bench. This +0.49 +/-OFF/60 suggests that Versteeg was worse offensively and defensively than his team without him, but the stats are never that simple.

All three of Versteeg’s prominent linemates had a worse +/-OFF/60 than him. Madden lead the charge at +0.75, which was good for worst on the team among players who played more than 15 games. Byfuglien is second worst at +0.72, while Ladd fared a tad better at +0.54. The story remains the same for +/-ON/60. Ladd’s was again only slightly worse at +0.17. Byfuglien took over the worst spot this time at -0.28, while second worst Madden was a -0.24. So these defensive stats are actually fairly good for Versteeg in comparison to the linemates he played with.

Versteeg has been hyped by the Maple Leafs as a fantastic penalty killer in addition to his offensive contribution. Blocking shots is something Versteeg should not be expected to do, however. Versteeg blocked a measly 19 shots in 2009-10, while having 51 of his own shots blocked by the opposition. On the penalty kill, Versteeg’s +/-ON/60 comes out to -0.77, which sounds bad when you don’t realize that it’s actually fifth best on the team behind Byfuglien, Kane, Toews and Campbell. All in all, Versteeg’s defensive play is not a stand out portion of his game, but it will certainly be an upgrade on the horrendous defensive effort of the 2009-10 Maple Leafs.

Versteeg will likely be bounced around the top 2 lines throughout the 2010-11 season with the Maple Leafs. What we should be expecting from Kris is a consistent effort on defence, especially on the penalty kill while potting 20-25 goals in the opposition’s net. If the Maple Leafs are going to make the playoffs next season, Versteeg will need to continue playing the great hockey he played in Chicago.

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