Teuvo Teravainen showed up at Blackhawks practice on Saturday and immediately walked on water.
OK, so it was frozen. But the expectations for the 20-year-old Finnish center couldn’t be much higher.
Despite a concerted effort by the organization to temper those expectations, with his brief three-game stay last spring and three months in the AHL to start this season, it’s hard to get around the fact that the gifted rookie is the Hawks’ most anticipated arrival since Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in 2007.
How Teravainen — recalled Friday in the wake of Kris Versteeg’s left hand injury, which will keep him out about a month — handles those expectations remains to be seen.
“When I was coming up, I was almost too young and too stupid to know what was going on,” Kane said. “Sometimes, you just go out there and play. Sometimes, that can be the best recipe for success.”
Of course, when Kane and Toews showed up, it was for a last-place team that hadn’t been relevant in a decade. On one hand, the Hawks’ deep talent pool means that Teravainen won’t be asked to carry the team, as Kane and Toews were. On the other hand, Teravainen walks into a much harsher spotlight, and on a team that’s favored to win the Stanley Cup.
So hey, no pressure, kid.
“I know there’s some expectations,” Teravainen said. “I’m a young player, so I just don’t really try to care about that too much, and just try to live day by day.”
Teravainen is replacing the productive Versteeg on the roster, but not in the lineup. Patrick Sharp will take over Versteeg’s spot on the second line, alongside Brad Richards and Kane. At Saturday’s practice, Teravainen skated between Joakim Nordstrom (in for the struggling Daniel Carcillo) and Ben Smith on the fourth line, with Marcus Kruger moving up to the third line and bumping Andrew Shaw to right wing.
Teravainen also rotated in on the second power-play unit, which would give him a chance to show his skills more. But at the start, it’ll largely be a defensive role for Teravainen. Limited minutes will further help ease him into his NHL career.
Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said that Teravainen’s defensive instincts are strong, especially for his age. If he wants to play regularly under Joel Quenneville, they’d better be.
“That could help him do the right things, learn our system and play the right way,” Quenneville said of the fourth-line role. “Whether quality ice time comes from power-play time [or not], I’m sure he’ll see shifts with [Kane] and other guys over the course of a game. It’ll grow as he plays, and how well he plays will dictate how much.”
Richards, a 14-year veteran, still remembers what it’s like to be a rookie, even as a third-round pick, not a first-rounder like Teravainen. Richards didn’t get to know Teravainen last spring like the rest of his teammates did, but he has an idea of what’s running through his head as his hotly anticipated return looms.
“When you’re in that situation, you think you’ve got to do it now, now, now,” Richards said. “Hopefully, he’ll relax. He’s been a good player to give himself this chance. Now he’s just got to keep doing what he’s done his whole life.”
Quenneville said that Teravainen has “high-end potential,” but said the internal expectations aren’t nearly as demanding as the external ones from fans and media. To him, Sunday’s game against the Dallas Stars isn’t the culmination of years of build-up, but rather the first small step in a long process.
“I don’t think there’s the buildup or the hype of a Toews or Kane,” Quenneville said. “He’s a young kid. Let him play, and hopefully he keeps getting better every game and every year. And it’ll be good for the organization if that’s the case.”