Hawks' Versteeg recalls Providence days

BOSTON -- Before he became a fulltime NHLer, Chicago Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg took many bus rides during his junior and minor league career.

There's one in particular he remembers vividly.

On Feb. 3, 2007, Versteeg was a member of the Providence Bruins, the AHL affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and the team was on its way to Manchester, N.H., to play the Monarchs, the affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings. At the time, Versteeg was a 20-year-old prospect and was tearing up the AHL, along with fellow Bruins prospect David Krejci. Versteeg was among the top point producers in the league, posting 49 points in 43 games.

In Boston, Bruins forward Glen Murray and Shean Donovan had both suffered injuries and the team needed reinforcements from Providence. Versteeg thought he could be promoted and make his NHL debut.

On the trip to Manchester, P-Bruins coach Scott "Flash" Gordon summoned Versteeg to the front of the bus. After a brief conversation, Versteeg returned to his seat in tears.

He wasn't promoted. He was traded.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli traded Versteeg to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward Brandon Bochenski.

"I thought it was an opportunity maybe to get called up, and Flash called me to the front of the bus and told me I had been traded," Versteeg said. "I was definitely pretty sad, to say the least, at the time. I thought I had something good going. I kind of got my career back on track with a big help from Flash and the Bruins organization, but in the end [being traded] was a good thing for myself."

Bochenski was a bust in Boston. Versteeg eventually reached the NHL and helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010. Only a few weeks after winning the Cup, the Blackhawks traded Versteeg to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He didn't last in Toronto, either, as the Maple Leafs dealt him to the Philadelphia Flyers in February 2011. That summer he was traded again, this time to the Florida Panthers.

He spent parts of three seasons with the Panthers, before the Blackhawks reacquired him via trade on Nov. 14, 2013.

Since being drafted by the Bruins in the fifth round (134th overall) in 2004, Versteeg's career has had many twists and turns.

"When I was in Boston, I thought the way I had been playing I was going to be a Bruin for quite a long time," Versteeg said. "I had a great time here and they gave me my start, but I didn't think [my career path] would be this crazy."

During his brief time in Providence, Versteeg and Krejci were considered two of the top prospects in the organization. Krejci made it to Boston and has been a cornerstone of the team's success, especially in the playoffs. Even though Versteeg never played for the Bruins, he still keeps close tabs on his former teammate.

"You're always happy for guys that you know, especially with Krejci, who I was good friends with. Me and him had some great times playing together in Providence and both kind of got our careers started together and seeing a guy take off like he has, I've always known the capability he had," Versteeg said. "He's made all those skeptics believers now for sure."

Added Versteeg, "It's always a little strange watching how good he's become. I've always felt that playing with him when we were together in Providence that he was going to be a really good player if given the opportunity. At the time, they weren't bringing up many young players in Boston and finally they started bringing up guys like David and gave those guys a chance. He's really made do with it."