SPORTS

Trade pickup Vermette proving valuable for Blackhawks late in playoffs

06/14/2015 10:48 EDT | Updated 06/14/2016 05:59 EDT
CHICAGO - As Antoine Vermette sat as a healthy scratch on May 23, a first-round pick and a prospect looked like an overpayment by the Chicago Blackhawks for his services.

Ever since, he has been an invaluable piece of the Blackhawks' playoff run and perhaps the final piece of another championship team.

The next game Vermette scored the game-winning goal against the Anaheim Ducks, his first of three since. The most recent one came Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final, putting the Blackhawks on the verge of winning the Cup.

"He's been at the right spot at the right time right now," linemate Kris Versteeg said. "It's not a fluke or luck. It's been coming from hard work and some patience and right now it's paying off for him."

Vermette cost Chicago general manager Stan Bowman a 2015 first-round pick and defensive prospect Klas Dahlbeck in a deal with the Arizona Coyotes. It was one of two moves made, along with the acquisition of defenceman Kimmo Timonen, that came about only because Patrick Kane's injury opened up some salary-cap flexibility.

Bowman said before the final that he wanted to give coach Joel Quenneville depth and options. What the Blackhawks got in Vermette was a top-nine forward who has been a major difference maker late in the playoffs.

"He's scored two really big goals for us in (Tampa), and he's been a huge part of our team and our success on the offensive and defensive side of the puck," captain Jonathan Toews said.

Vermette went from the Coyotes' No. 1 centre to a bit player on the star-studded Blackhawks. The adjustment took time for the pending unrestricted free agent, but eventually he figured it out.

"The rhythm of the game is not the same compared to when you're used to playing 19 minutes a game," Vermette said. "But when I got here I also recognized what a great opportunity it was to play for this team."

Vermette found his niche on Chicago's third line, most recently alongside Versteeg and Finnish rookie Teuvo Teravainen. When he scored the Game 2 winner, it came off a pass from Teravainen, and in Game 5 a rebound of Versteeg's shot off the rush.

All three players have been a healthy scratch at some point in the playoffs. The Blackhawks expect Teravainen to be a big part of the future and don't count on Versteeg as much as in 2010, but they hoped Vermette would be an immediate strong piece for a playoff run.

The price they paid raised the expectations for Vermette to live up to the trade.

"I never really thought about it that way, but you could see it that way," the St. Agapit, Que., native said. "As a player, you always put a lot of pressure on yourself. You try to bring your best foot forward every time you're stepping on the ice there."

Vermette has his best foot forward at the perfect time for the Blackhawks and has become their go-to scorer in important situations.

"I'm not focused as much on that as just trying to focus on the process and to have fun while I'm at it," Vermette said. "Just trying to help the team in difference facets in which I can. Just keeping it simple, but obviously it's nice to contribute that way.''

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