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Ottawa Senators goalie Robin Lehner (L) knocks the puck away from Toronto Maple Leafs forward Kris Versteeg (R) during the first period of their NHL pre-season hockey game in Toronto September 21, 2010. (MIKE CASSESE)
Ottawa Senators goalie Robin Lehner (L) knocks the puck away from Toronto Maple Leafs forward Kris Versteeg (R) during the first period of their NHL pre-season hockey game in Toronto September 21, 2010. (MIKE CASSESE)

Versteeg has mark of a champion Add to ...

As he bent forward to untie his skates on Tuesday, Kris Versteeg revealed a marker on the underside of his arm that differentiates him from almost all of his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates.

There, in relatively fresh ink, are three numbers: 06 • 09 • 10.

Normally as talkative as they come, Versteeg just grins when asked about having a permanent reminder of the day he won the Stanley Cup last June.

"I had it done at 4 a.m.," he said, sheepishly. "A couple days after."

Even minus the relatively hidden tattoo, the former Chicago Blackhawks winger has stood out at Leafs training camp for his former team's accomplishment and all of the attention it's brought him.

Versteeg is often referred to by his coaches and peers simply as a "Stanley Cup winner" - one of just four on the team - and carries an aura of confidence befitting a recent champion.

"It's definitely an honour," rookie Nazem Kadri said of skating on a line with Versteeg in Toronto's ugly 5-0 preseason loss Tuesday night to the Ottawa Senators. "I've got a Stanley Cup winner on my wing. It's going to be pretty fun for me."

Two years ago, Versteeg was anything but a known commodity in the NHL. At that point, four years after being drafted, he was a 22-year-old, fifth-round pick with all of 13 games in the league, viewed as one middling prospect among many on an up-and-coming team.

Gradually his role in Chicago grew, however, and after finishing third in Calder Trophy voting in 2008-09, he settled in as a capable utility player last season. Versteeg played more than 17 minutes a night, on average, in the postseason en route to the Cup, earning praise from coach Joel Quenneville for his versatility and ability to play on both special teams.

Exactly three weeks after he won it all, Versteeg was shipped to the Leafs as Chicago desperately dumped salary to get under the cap. The sixth- or seventh-best forward on a championship team, he was suddenly one of the key cogs for a franchise attempting to rebuild on the fly.

Tuesday was Versteeg's first opportunity to suit up as a Leaf, and he was likely Toronto's best player in an awful showing from the rest of his team. Coach Ron Wilson leaned on him heavily, too, giving Versteeg a generous nine minutes on the power play and the most ice time of any forward except for linemate Colby Armstrong.

Given how thin Toronto is in terms of goal scoring, that's likely a good preview of how big his role will be once the games start to count. Wilson has already noted Versteeg will be one of his top penalty killers, a needed commodity given how dreadful the Leafs have been in that department under this regime.

"He probably will have more opportunities here in terms of ice time," Wilson said. "He wants to be a bigger contributor.

"Joel [Quenneville]said I'll love Kris, the way he plays. He'll help our penalty killing. And he's going to bring a winning attitude as well. He won a Stanley Cup last year. He's a confident person and hopefully that will bleed into the rest of the team."

There's also already talk of Versteeg - at only 24 and with 170 games in the NHL - being a leader of sorts on this team, taking what he learned with the Blackhawks and relaying that to a group with little experience in the championship department.

"I know he's a young guy, but he's got some experience under his belt," Armstrong said. "He's been through a lot in his young career already."

One of the team's growing group of practical jokers, Armstrong added - while within earshot of Versteeg - that he was hoping some of his teammate's championship mojo rubs off on him.

"We're looking for little secrets from him," he said. "Every time he does something, I'm just kind of trying to steal little things. Might get a white mouth guard [like Versteeg's]"

Versteeg, meanwhile, said he isn't the least bit disappointed at having to start over with another organization trying to find its way.

"Changing teams keeps you honest," he said. "I have to prove myself to a new team. It's a new battle for me and I have to be ready.

"Everyone always talks about how you're going to a 29th-place team, but it's a new season so I don't get how they're a 29th-place team," he added. "I'm excited about everyone who's come in here. Everyone's raring to go."

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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