Flyers improve lineup, land Versteeg in trade

By SHAY RODDY
Managing Editor — sroddy@highhopesblog.com
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The Flyers hope Kris Versteeg's championship experience will help them win a cup of their own. FILE

Just when you thought the league-leading Flyers couldn’t get much better, general manager Paul Holmgren pulled another surprise out of his sleeve.

The Flyers announced Monday that they have acquired RW Kris Versteeg from the Toronto Maple Leafs, in exchange for a first and third round draft pick in next year’s NHL Entry Draft.

The 5’10”, 182-pound winger is a solid young skater who brings a lot to the table both on the ice and in the locker room. Versteeg was a team leader by many accounts for last year’s Blackhawks Cup team.

Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette was impressed by what he saw in the Final last season and thinks Versteeg’s skills will translate well onto an already forward-heavy Flyers team.

“He’s a tenacious guy that does a lot of things well,” Laviolette said Monday on a conference call. “He can kill penalties, play on the power play, he can play on the top line, play on the checking line. I think he’s done a little bit of everything. … He’s an addition to that skill up front. I’m not sure exactly where it’ll fit in line-wise, but I think just more depth.”

While Laviolette doesn’t underestimate his team’s hunger to bring a parade down Broad Street, he can’t deny the value a ring carries come playoff time.

“I think when you bring in experienced players, it helps,” Laviolette said.  “But we didn’t have a lot of that last year and we came awfully close. … Obviously we’re not satisfied with that and in the end we’re disappointed with it. Adding a guy who has a ring can only help that, but I think this group is pretty determined right now also, along with adding that in.”

It may have been in that Final that the winger first caught the attention of the Flyers’ brass. Versteeg had six goals and 14 points in 22 games last postseason, something that helped persuade GM Paul Holmgren to go out and get him.

“Kris is an exciting young forward,” Holmgren said in a statement. “He’s 24-years-old and he’ll fit in with our group of players here. He’s a quality forward that can play in a lot of different roles for our hockey team. He can move up and down our lineup. He can kill penalties. He can play on the power play. We think he’s a guy that over the last few years, particularly in Chicago, has really blossomed into a good forward and we think he’s going to be a really good addition to our team.”

Versteeg is excited to back playing for a contender after spending the first part of the season on the struggling Maple Leafs (23-27). He believes that he can bring a lot of different things to the table.

“Right away I was extremely excited to join this team,” Versteeg said. “They’ve had a lot of success this season. They had a great playoff push last year and I’m excited to try and have a good one this year. I like to make plays and score goals at the same time, maybe go out there and be an agitator at times too. I’m going to try and do it all and have fun doing it.”

Laviolette said that, while he hasn’t spoken to Versteeg yet, he doesn’t see a reason he wouldn’t be in the lineup tomorrow night when the Flyers are in Tampa to face the Lightning. Laviolette wouldn’t commit to exactly where the newest Flyer would play, but didn’t rule out a suggested Mike Richards–James van Riemsdyk–Versteeg line. “There’s a chance that we could try that,” Laviolette said.

Odd man out?

The Flyers have already had the need to bring forwards in and out of the lineup all season. With another body up front, it seems likely that Nik Zherdev will be the odd man out. Laviolette says he takes those decisions very seriously, but wouldn’t comment specifically on who may find their name regularly showing up as a healthy scratch.

“I don’t make those decisions lightly – you’re talking about people’s livelihood. In the same sense, it’s a business and those decisions have to be made. So they’re tough decisions and we’ll have to do it. But certainly I think adding Kris to the lineup strengthens our mix up front.”

With the trade it seems likely that the Flyers will try to shop Zherdev, who’s attitude has been problematic all season. Though, the rumor is they’ve been trying for some time now and their aren’t many takers. If traded, Zherdev would more than likely be exchanged for draft picks to replenish the Flyers’ selections and keep them under the cap.

We’ll see how it all plays out with the trade deadline coming up on Feb. 28.

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