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Norfolk Admirals' forward Kris Versteeg
was acquried from Providence on Feb. 3rd
for forward Brandon Bochenski.

Lindsay Kramer | correspondent
Feb 12, 2007, 12:00 PM EST

There weren’t a lot of jersey numbers available for rookie forward Kris Versteeg when he was traded to the Norfolk Admirals earlier this month.

The No. 10 jersey that he wore as a member of the Providence Bruins before the Feb. 3 swap belonged to Admirals captain Craig MacDonald. But No. 23 was free, as was No. 27.

Of course, No. 27 belonged to the player for whom Versteeg was traded, forward Brandon Bochenski, one of the best snipers in the AHL. Versteeg insists he’s not in awe of anyone’s shadow, but he decided to sidestep the issue and leave No. 27 on the shelf. So No. 23 it was.

“I came here and I wanted to be my own player,’’ Versteeg said. “I don’t have any pressure.’’

Somewhere, Admirals coach Mike Haviland is grinning. The first thing that he has tried to impress upon his precocious young scorer is that while he will take Bochenski’s place on the roster, he isn’t striding in his skates on the ice.

“We told him he’s going to fit in with our young guys here,’’ Haviland said. “He’s his own person. He’s here to be Kris. That’s it.’’

And that’s likely enough.

Versteeg, a fifth-round pick by Boston in the 2004 draft, is third among all AHL rookies with 50 points. That type of production will help compensate for the loss of Bochenski, who was second in the AHL with 33 goals.

But the trade has more tentacles than just the exchange of one scorer for another. Norfolk has clawed to the top of the East Division on the strength of an offense that’s tallied 203 goals, second-most in the AHL. At one time, Norfolk boasted one of the AHL’s best lines in Bochenski, Troy Brouwer and Martin St. Pierre. But Brouwer is in Chicago and Bochenski is gone. So Versteeg has been tossed the challenge of jumping onto a speeding train while at the same time getting the responsibility to make sure it doesn’t lose steam.

Haviland doesn’t see any issues with that. Bochenski was a finisher, pure and simple. Versteeg, the coach said, is a little more complete, a player who can create and finish.

“I heard he was a real good all-around player, (with) very good skill, and competes,’’ Haviland said. “He certainly is crafty and fits in well with some of the guys we have.’’

The transition period should be a quick one. The 5-foot-10, 179-pound Versteeg recorded an assist in his first game with Norfolk, on Feb. 7.

“You just have to keep your feet moving, make teams double-guess on their (defensive) decisions,’’ Versteeg said. “Playing with a lot of great offensive players (in Norfolk), it’s definitely going to help. Hopefully, I can come in and contribute right away.’’

Of course, he was an immediate impact player in Providence, and that didn’t guarantee him anything but a ticket out of town. Versteeg was on the team bus traveling to a game in Manchester when Bruins coach Scott Gordon called him to the front to tell him about the trade.

“I didn’t know if it was a joke or for real,’’ Versteeg said. “Obviously, it was for real.’’

And maybe a little surreal. Versteeg, naturally, was scratched for the game. He then took the bus ride back to Providence sitting amid a group of players who went from friends to potential opponents somewhere between highway markers. Gordon, whom Versteeg credited for giving him a chance, called him up for a chat.

“We just had a good conversation about my time here. I thanked him for everything he did,’’ Versteeg said. “I loved it there. All of a sudden, everything changes in a split second and you’re sideswiped by it. I guess you can’t get too comfortable. That’s what I learned.’’

Ah, but Versteeg has known that for awhile. That’s why he’s so good. As a youngster, Versteeg was a lightly regarded player. Ask him how many teams he was cut from as a youth, and he rattles off a list that requires all the digits on one hand and then calls the other hand out of the bullpen.

Versteeg would get mad, for sure. Then he would play street hockey and furiously practice both fundamentals and dazzle. He worked his way to a solid career with Lethbridge and then Red Deer of the WHL.

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