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updated: 11/15/2013 4:36 PM

Shocked Versteeg excited to rejoin Blackhawks

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  • Former Florida Panthers right wing Kris Versteeg will wear No. 23 for the Blackhawks. Versteeg, who left the Hawks after their 2010 championship, is expected to help the penalty killing unit.

      Former Florida Panthers right wing Kris Versteeg will wear No. 23 for the Blackhawks. Versteeg, who left the Hawks after their 2010 championship, is expected to help the penalty killing unit.
    Associated Press

 
 

Kris Versteeg couldn't get back to Chicago fast enough.

Told of his trade to the Blackhawks late Thursday night by Florida general manager Dale Tallon, Versteeg took the 6 a.m. flight out of Minnesota, where the Panthers were staying, and was at Johnny's IceHouse West in time for the Hawks' 11:30 practice.

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"I had about 30 minutes of sleep last night," Versteeg said. "You're just excited and really trying to process everything that's going on.

"I'm shocked. I didn't really know what was going to happen. Florida, we were struggling a little bit and you heard that there might be something going on. But obviously when Dale called me last night and told me I was coming back here, obviously put a smile on my face. And I'm very excited about coming back here."

And the Hawks are happy to have him.

Versteeg skated at right wing on the third line with Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell at practice Friday wearing No. 23. His old No. 32 now belongs to Michal Rozsival.

"I think I can fit in," said Versteeg, acquired with Philippe Lefebvre in exchange for prospects Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen. "I try to fit in to whatever lineup I'm in, with whatever role the coach tries to put me in. But this is a strong lineup and I'm going to have to compete hard every night for a roster spot and just try to help make this team better in whatever way I can."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville loves Versteeg's versatility and the fact he can kill penalties. He's a natural fit on the third line as well.

"He's going to start there," Quenneville said. "I think that it's a perfect fit for us and for him as well.

"He can play all positions up front. You can play him in all situations -- PP, PK and regular shift. He's a pretty handy guy and very useful. We like what he brings to the team."

Hawks general manager Stan Bowman asked Quenneville's opinion before making the trade.

"He asked us what we thought about him," Quenneville said. "Certainly we had a good time together, a couple of really effective years. I enjoyed coaching him as well. It was a real nice fit for us with the timing of it and the chance to fit in here with our guys and get him up to speed.

"We might have a couple of different ways the way we played him when he was here. At the same time, he's very familiar with the guys. The guys were excited last night when they heard the news. We're pretty familiar with what he brings and he's familiar with our surroundings as well. I don't think there will be much of an adjustment period for him, just get back into it, do your thing and play the right way and we'll look forward to him being a big part of our team."

Versteeg is all for helping the Hawks climb out of the league's doldrums in penalty killing.

"It's something when I was here that I took pride in, trying to be a player that could play penalty kill or power play," Versteeg said. "Obviously, I'm going to have to work closely with (assistant coach Mike) Kitchen and really figure out where on the ice to be and what to do and really figure out the systems in a short period of time, but with the familiarity of a lot of faces, I think that should be OK."

The Hawks traded Versteeg to Toronto after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, and the winger remembers the conversation he had with Bowman.

"Me and Stan actually, before, when he called me about getting traded to Toronto, I said if there's ever a chance, I would love to come back," Versteeg said. "It obviously happened.

"I'm still young, I've got hopefully a lot of years ahead of me, and hopefully it's as a Blackhawk, because it's where my heart is."

As for trading prospects Hayes and Olsen, the Hawks did what every successful organization does. They identified the players they didn't think fit into their future plans and turned them into an asset such as Versteeg.

The Hawks saw Hayes for 43 games over the last three seasons and realized his skating wasn't at the NHL level. Likewise for Olsen, who played 28 games in 2011-12 and was passed up by defense prospects such as Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck and Viktor Svedberg.

Give Bowman some credit for knowing what he is doing. After all, he's the only GM to win two Stanley Cups in the salary cap era.

Besides, there's another draft in June when the Hawks can stockpile more prospects.

The Hawks win this deal, especially with the Panthers picking up half of Versteeg's $4.4 million salary cap hit over the next three seasons.

Maybe Hayes and Olsen will go on to have fine NHL careers, but the odds are against it.

• Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone.

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