CHICAGO -- Kris Versteeg put last season behind him during the offseason.
Others, especially the media, still like to remind him about his worst professional season. The difference now? Versteeg is dealing with questions about the grand difference between last season’s struggles and this season’s successes.
Versteeg created some more separation between the contrasting seasons Wednesday, as he accounted for the winning goal and two assists, all of which came in the third period of the Chicago Blackhawks’ 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues.
Versteeg’s performance on Wednesday at the United Center would have been the highlight of his 2013-14 season. He didn’t produce a three-point game all season.
This season, Wednesday was just another highlight performance among a number of them. He has produced seven points over the past three games and 14 points during the past eight games. He tallied multiple points six times in 63 games last season; through 21 games this season, he already has seven games with two or more points.
“I think he’s better than ever, to be honest,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane recently said. “He’s great with the puck, hanging onto the puck, good in battle areas, finding himself open, finding other players open. He’s been awesome pretty much the whole year. It’s fun to see.”
The effort was there for Versteeg a season ago, but his body just would not allow him to do things he was accustomed to doing. He was coming off an ACL surgery in March 2013 and has admitted he rushed his recovery before beginning last season with the Florida Panthers.
The Blackhawks were hoping he would rebound when they traded for him in November 2013, but his play never returned to the level they witnessed during his first stint in Chicago. Opponents were skating around him by the end of the season, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville decided he was too much of a liability in the playoffs and began healthy scratching him.
“Obviously, I told you guys I was brutal, especially down the last stretch,” Versteeg said on Wednesday. “I do look back on it as coming back from a really hard injury, and I thought it was hard that way. I don’t really look back on it anymore. It gets brought up quite a bit, but I just look game to game. That’s all I can tell you.”
Versteeg made sure in the offseason he would not have a repeat of last season. He put the time and work into building up his knee, and he and the Blackhawks are reaping the rewards.
After watching Versteeg score from the slot and dish out two primary assists to Kane on Wednesday, Quenneville had high praise for Versteeg.
“He has playmaking ability,” Quenneville said. “When you look at the top guys in the league, Steeger can make plays like that, almost at that level where Kaner is. He sees and makes plays. You saw the saucer pass over to Kaner on the [game’s final goal]. He can do those type of things. We don’t encourage other guys trying that stuff, but he’s able to.”
Versteeg’s recent play has reminded Quenneville of what he saw in Versteeg when he played a major role on the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup championship team.
“Let’s compare [this season] to 2010; that’s more realistic,” Quenneville said. “I think he’s back to where he was or where he wanted to be. He’s coming off that injury. I can go back to every single guy that had an ACL injury. It takes a year to get back to Square 1. Square 1 was training camp, and he had an excellent camp. You got to commend him on preparing and getting excited about the year.
“Now he’s playing the way we envisioned him to play.”