As we reach the half-way mark in the 2014-15 season, the Chicago Blackhawks are right where most expected him to be; right near the top of the standings. The Blackhawks stand 2 points out of the first-place position in the Central Division, as they enjoy a four-day break after playing three games in four nights. All this time off has given fans time to reflect on what has transpired over the last 41 games, and take a look ahead at the next 41, and the playoffs beyond that.
True, expectations are always high when it comes to Chicago’s hockey team. Likewise, our list of the Blackhawks’ three stars of the first half of the season had a lot to do with their expectations; one player blew away their mediocre expectations, another rose to the challenge to meet very high expectations, and another is well on his way to a career-year.
#3: Kris Versteeg
Last season, Kris Versteeg was public enemy #1 in Chicago. Now, over a year removed from the trade that sent him back to the Blackhawks from the Florida Panthers, one wonders how Versteeg pulled off such a remarkable transformation.
Granted, Versteeg wasn’t the player many expected him to be, after a glorious start to his career with the Blackhawks several years ago. With just 29 points in 63 games, relegated to bottom-six duty, Versteeg seemed like a liability, and had many wishing that they still had Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen, who were sent to Florida in the deal.
Versteeg seemed to be on a mission to prove his doubters wrong in 2014-15, but another slow start had Blackhawks fans expecting more of the same. Versteeg didn’t make his season debut until October 21st, and he proceeded to put up only one point in his first five games of the season. A three point night against Ottawa seemed to turn things around; then came another a week later against Montreal. Then another against Dallas, and another against the Oilers.
Suddenly, Versteeg is taking reps on the second line with Patrick Kane and Brad Richards, and it was an instant fit. Since then, Versteeg hasn’t looked back, and has almost eclipsed last year’s point total, with 9-18-27 in just 34 games.
Versteeg still has plenty of upside left, not to mention another year on his contract. For a young player coming off major knee reconstruction, some have figured that his criticism a season ago wasn’t deserved. At any rate, Versteeg is the player Blackhawks fans expected him to be a year ago, but no one could have imagined this season.
Currently, Versteeg is on the mend, as he suffered a hand injury during the Winter Classic. He will be in tough to get his top-six position back when he returns, with Bryan Bickell playing well in his place.