Versteeg shocked, happy to return to Hawks

CHICAGO -- Kris Versteeg always assumed he would be left with only his memories of playing with the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much as he loved his experience with the Blackhawks and enjoyed his time in the city, he had put away his dream of returning to Chicago and had come to the realization he’d finish his career elsewhere.

And then, his phone rang on Thursday. And it rang. And it rang.

"When you see two missed calls and a couple voicemails, you figure something is up," Versteeg said.

Versteeg discovered 45 minutes after the initial phone call that Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was trying to reach him to let him know he and Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman were putting together a deal to send him back to Chicago.

"I think I was shocked," Versteeg said.

That feeling still existed less than 24 hours later on Friday as Versteeg was officially reunited with the Blackhawks. He took a 6 a.m. flight from Minneapolis to Chicago and was meeting his teammates in the locker room at Johnny’s IceHouse West not longer after that and then was on the ice for practice around 11:30 a.m.

"It’s a lot to process," Versteeg said. "I’ve had so much good times. You almost put all of that in the rearview mirror because you never thought you’d ever come back. Now I’m back here. It’s now about getting back to playing hockey and trying to put my best foot forward and trying to help the team in whatever way I really can.

"Me and Stan actually before when he called me about getting traded to Toronto [in 2010], I said if there’s ever a chance I would love to come back. Obviously it happened. I’m really excited about it. I still think I’m pretty young. I hopefully have a lot of years ahead of me, and, hopefully, it’s as a Blackhawk because that’s where my heart is."

Versteeg’s last run with the Blackhawks ended with a trade to the Maple Leafs in June of 2010. He had been with the team since the 2007-08 season and played a key role on its third line during a Stanley Cup run in 2010. But after the season, the Blackhawks needed to free up cap space and he was dealt.

Since then, his career has been full of ups and downs. He lasted less than a season with the Maple Leafs and was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. He played a total of 38 games with the Flyers and then was shipped to the Panthers. He had some success with the Panthers, especially during the 2011-12 season, but he suffered a torn ACL last season and has had a slow start to this season.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville believed Versteeg could still be an asset to his team in a variety of ways. Versteeg skated with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw on the third line on Friday.

"Nice acquisition for us," Quenneville said. "I know Steeg is very versatile in what he brings to our team. He can play all positions up front, can play him in all situations, [power play], [penalty kill], regular shift. Pretty handy guy and very useful. I like what we brings to the team."

Bickell had a similar response. He was pleased to have Versteeg back on the ice and in the locker room.

"He has a lot of different things to bring to the table," Bickell said. "I think he can penalty kill; he can power play, do what it takes to help the team win. His skill level is up there in the league. I’m just looking forward to playing with him.

"He’s relaxed. He likes to have a good time. I know him and Shaw are sitting aside each other in this locker room. I know they’re going to talk each other’s ears off. It doesn’t seem like he’s left. He’s happy to be back."

There was no doubt of that.

"I didn’t really know it was going to happen," Versteeg said. "In Florida, we were obviously struggling a bit, and you heard something was going on. But, obviously, when Dale called me last night and told me I was coming back here, obviously I put a smile on my face. I’m very excited to be coming back here."