Kris Versteeg’s return to the lineup appears to be imminent. He’s skating, he’s shed his no-contact jersey, he’s off the injured reserve: and, with 11 games to go in the season, the Flames will need all the help they can get.
Versteeg hasn’t played since Nov. 24, hip surgery taking him out of the lineup for nearly four months. Of the 22 games he has played this season, he’s averaged 13:08 in ice time. Versteeg scored three goals and eight points at the start of the season, with one goal and five points coming on the man advantage, as he was trusted with top powerplay time before going down. (Even now, his 71:43 played on the man advantage is 10th on the Flames, 59 seconds ahead of Troy Brouwer.)
He definitely had his role with the Flames: bottom six forward, but still easily one of their better right shots.
As he draws closer to making a return, that begs the question: what will the Flames’ lines look like with him?
Assuming Matthew Tkachuk isn’t out long, then the top six is pretty much set: Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Micheal Ferland on one line; Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik on another.
On a usual night, Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski make up two-thirds of the Flames’ third line by default. Garnet Hathaway has been their right wing for the most part, but he isn’t quite on their level; even a basic statistical glance will tell you that (Hathaway is stuck at 10 points, while Bennett is at 26 and Jankowski 20). Is it time to place Versteeg on the third line with Bennett and Jankowski, or should it still be Hathaway in that spot?
If Versteeg ends up making that line, then there’s a fair bit of competition for who plays on the fourth line: Hathaway, Troy Brouwer, Matt Stajan, Curtis Lazar, Nick Shore, and Chris Stewart are all options. Versteeg could also join them if it turns out he isn’t quite ready to play an increased role on the third line, though he’s probably the team’s best option at the moment.
Either way you look at it, though, Versteeg’s return should strengthen the lineup overall.
Things do get a little murkier if Tkachuk is out for longer, though. Bennett would likely be up with Backlund and Frolik in that case, leaving Jankowski – assuming he isn’t scratched again – perhaps with Versteeg and, well, any of the other bottom sixers/fourth line fodder. Brouwer and Stewart are options who have received third line time before; Lazar is someone else who could perhaps benefit from it, as well.
How would you like to see the lineup shake out with Versteeg’s return imminent?