Friday, 9 September 2016

A Nice Addition

He always seems to be one of the last guys signed when teams are scrambling for talent to bring to training camps, yet he's always been a proven producer on the teams who have given him a chance. It was announced today that Kris Versteeg has accepted at professional tryout opportunity with the Edmonton Oilers, and I have a feeling that this signing will be of great benefit to the Oilers. Versteeg has won at the NHL level, he's been through a number of NHL teams where he's been exposed to various situations, and he's just 30 years old. In other words, Versteeg brings a wealth of experience to a club needing a dose of it.

The Oilers have questions with some of their younger players up front, and the signing of Versteeg would shore up some of the right-wing possibilities. People will look at Versteeg's stats and spout off how he's never scored 25 goals or scored 60 points, but he's often played on a Chicago team where the top-two lines are pretty much written into stone. He had a solid run with teams that needed some scoring such as Toronto and Florida, but he's been relegated to a checking role with teams that have proven scoring.

There's no question that the Oilers have a top-line right winger in Jordan Eberle, but Zack Kassian, Iiro Pakarinen, Tyler Pitlick, and Nail Yakupov don't really put the fear of death into any NHL blue line. Kassian and Pitlick are probably better relegated to the bottom-six, and that gives Kris Versteeg an opportunity to play second-line minutes where his scoring touch can be used. Of course, there's that Finnish blue chip prospect named Jesse Puljujarvi who could crack the Oilers' lineup this season on the right side, but he's honestly the only threat on paper that Versteeg should have for a second-line role.

If Versteeg can score 20 goals and add 50 points for the Oilers, they're already better than they were a year ago when they seemed to have a cast of players rotating through that spot. If Leon Draisaitl plays down the middle and Patrick Maroon slot alongside Versteeg, that second line has speed, skill, size, and smarts. That's exactly what the Oilers need behind Connor McDavid's line when it comes to being a legitimate scoring threat every time they step on the ice.

The alternative, if Versteeg's camp sees him bumped down the lineup, is that the Oilers will still get a legitimate scoring threat to play a hybrid checking-scoring role on the third line alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Versteeg has been a minus player only once in nine NHL seasons, so head coach Todd McLellan should feel confident rolling him out against an opposition's top line if necessary. With Nugent-Hopkins centering Versteeg, he should see scoring opportunities on that third line as well.

As seen with the above evidence, the versatility that Versteeg brings will help the Oilers with injuries as well. He can play in different roles when called upon and has the skill to both score and check scorers playing against him. He won't light up a scoreboard like Ovechkin or Stamkos, but Versteeg is one of those players who settles into the role given to him and plays well.

While some will point to a need for experienced defencemen on the Oilers, shoring up their forward units with a versatile player like Versteeg will benefit them greatly this season. The fact that he always seems to be available in September will remain a mystery to me.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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