Searching the Central Scouting Bureau’s mid-term
rankings for the name Kris Versteeg might not turn up many results, but
scouts assigned to following Lethbridge Hurricanes teammate John Lammers
(ranked 69th by the CSB) might get an awakening watching the magic
these two perform together.
Despite not even making the list among North American
skaters, Versteeg continues to hold his head up high, a head on a slim 5’9”
frame, filled out by a meager 160 pounds. He is the classic case of underdog, a
player thought too small to make an impact. Versteeg, however, doesn’t see
himself this way, nor do any of his teammates, who are enjoying his success as
Versteeg has been a key contributor for the
Hurricanes, working on both the power play and the second line in Lethbridge.
He has been accredited for much of the success the club has had, despite going
unrecognized outside of his hometown. The Lethbridge native only needs the
support of his hometown fans, who cheer him on every step of the way.
Hockey’s Future spoke to Kris Versteeg about the
2003-04 Western Hockey League season, the 2004 National Hockey League Entry
Draft, and his play in general.
HF: The 2004 Entry Draft is only a few months away.
Are you feeling more pressure, knowing it is just around the corner?
KV: I guess there’s the added pressure when you’re
out there, maybe to contribute a couple more points here and there. I’ve just
got to go out there and play my game and do it hard, and when the 2004 Entry
Draft comes along I might get drafted, and I might not. You never know, but
hopefully it’ll happen.
HF: Is the Entry Draft something you’ve placed in the
back of your mind over the course of the season, or is it something you’ve
given a lot of thought to?
KV: It’s been placed in the back of my mind, but at
the same time, I’ve given some serious consideration to it as well. It’s kind
of tough to think about the draft and play hockey at the same time. You can’t
really worry about it.
HF: Have you searched out any of your teammates’
advice, who have already been drafted?
KV: Yeah, Andy Thompson. When Andy was here (now with
the Vancouver Giants), he talked to me about the draft. Basically he said just
go, and don’t be worrying about it. If you go, just have fun at it and relax
because if you’re going there and are expecting to be drafted and do not get
drafted then your heart’s going to be broken, so otherwise keep your head up.
HF: You currently sit third on the club in points. Is there something
you’ve done differently over the course of this season in comparison to last?
KV: Really, just the chemistry
between me and (2004 draft eligible) John Lammers. He’s really someone I’m
contributing a lot of my success to him. He’s been really good for me. He’s a
good sniper. Basically, I just give the puck to him and he can put it in the
net I guess. It’s been really great playing with him.
HF: Personal successes aside, the Lethbridge
Hurricanes have been struggling as of late. What does this organization need to
do in order to find success and turn these struggles around?
KV: We’ve been saying in the
dressing room we haven’t been working smart, we haven’t been working as a team.
That also comes with a lot of new guys. We have seven new players on the roster
and I mean, all those new guys need to buy into our system, and they’ve all
been trying to do so. Once everyone gets on the same page and buys into the
system, we’re going to be great out here.
HF: Head Coach Mikko Makela was released from the
club. What kind of impact is a move such as this going to have on the
Lethbridge Hurricanes, and will it serve as a distraction as the team looks
forward towards a potential playoff berth?
KV: Well obviously we’ll have to
adjust to it. I’ve been here for two seasons, and this is our second coaching
change. It’s difficult to adjust at times, but in the same breath, it might be
good to get a fresh coach in here and get his advice on what we need to change.
HF: With your third coach in two seasons, would you
consider yourself a dreaded ‘coach killer’?
KV [laughing]: No, I hope not. I
don’t want to be having that distinction.
HF: Not everyone that wants to is going to get to see
you play. How would you describe your style of play for those that see Kris
Versteeg as another name on the scoresheet?
KV: I think I see the ice very
well. I like to distribute the puck quite a bit, possibly to a fault. I’ve been
told I need to shoot the puck more in certain situations. I’m more of a passing
player and I like to find the open areas. I try to really use my vision out
there and try to be a smart player.
HF: Is your size something you’re concerned about,
and how are you overcoming it?
KV: I just try to go out there and
act like a bigger person then I really am. You can’t act too big out there,
because you’ll get shoved down, but I can’t act small out there either. I have
to play with grit and I have to play hard every night and that’s how I think
I’m overcoming my size.
HF: Since size really isn’t something that can be
worked on, do you see anything else that you need to work on in order to take
your game to the next level?
KV: I think I have to start
playing more of a passive game, and play harder, but not so much in the corners
more because I feel I do that rather well right now. I’ve got to get into open
spaces more, so that teammates can hit me with the puck. My linemates always
have lots of skills, so it’s just a matter of trusting them and getting free so
that they can find me more.
HF: Are there any facets of the game you feel you’re
weaker in than other areas?
KV: Yeah, my strength. Strength is
a key factor for me, as is my skating. Everything can get better. Everything
has to get better. Everything needs to improve in order for me to take my game
to the next level. Becoming a better skater is the biggest thing for me right
now, as is being stronger on the puck.
HF: What would you describe as some of the stronger
points of the Kris Versteeg game?
KV: Like I said before, my biggest
strength is my ability to make passes, and to hit the open man and to be able
to make little nifty plays. I think my biggest strength is to be creative. I
love to be creative on the ice and I like to have fun out there.
HF: Have you tried modelling your game after any one
NHLer in particular?
KV: I really try to model my play
after Peter Forsberg. He’s a bigger guy then I am, but he’s a passive player,
and he plays with a lot of grit and determination, and he likes to throw a
little elbow here and there, just like me. I just like to watch him play and
he’s a great player.
Kris Versteeg has had a great
season thus far for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, and leads his hometown junior
club in scoring, registering 35 points on the strength of 13 goals and 22
assists. Although the right wing sits –11 on the season, it is more of a
reflection of the entire team’s effort at both ends of the ice.
Versteeg has gone unnoticed so far
in his campaign, which is difficult to believe. Size certainly has been a
factor in his case, as he is very much undersized. Size, however, has not
gotten in the way of Versteeg shattering his totals from the 2002-03 Western
Hockey League season.
Last season, Kris registered 18
points through 57 games, 8 of which were goals. This season, Versteeg has
scored his 35 points in 45 games, more then doubling his point-per-game totals
from last season.