When Blackhawks management talks about Teuvo Teravainen, they talk about “instincts” that you can’t teach, about “talents” that are undeniable.
There’s little doubt the Finnish center has the skill to play in the NHL. But does he have the size? The strength? The mental toughness? The versatility to play top-six and bottom-six roles, and maybe on the wing?
Those are the big questions, and they haven’t yet been answered. The Brad Richards over the summer signing essentially bought the Hawks time when it comes to Teravainen. And they’re using it.
“We haven’t preordained when it’s going to be, and we’ve done that on purpose,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said. “He could be up in two weeks, two months, or not until April.”
Teravainen is in a tough spot. His style is better suited to the NHL than the dump-and-chase world of the American Hockey League. But he’d also be an awkward fit in a bottom-six role on the Hawks. He has two goals and eight assists in 17 games with the Rockford IceHogs, along with a team-worst minus-4 rating.
And his frustration is evident.
“I don’t know if I’m happy or if I’m not happy,” Teravainen said. “I’m just trying to play. It’s pretty hard playing here. It’s different hockey. It’s not my type of hockey maybe, AHL hockey. I think there’s differences with NHL hockey and AHL hockey, but I’m just trying to do my job there and try to play my best.”
With a bevy of players knocking on the door of the NHL, the IceHogs do play a more skilled game than most teams in the AHL, but it’s still minor-league hockey, still messy and unstructured at times.
“In some ways it’s harder to play there,” Bowman acknowledged. “We’ve seen in a lot of players where they come to the NHL and it’s almost easier, because things are more settled down. … I do think the AHL can be tough for young, offensive players, because it’s a bit more scattered.
As Teravainen adapts, it’s been Mark McNeill, Peter Regin, Phillip Danault and Garret Ross that have been the IceHogs’ best forwards, not the most touted prospect the organization has had since Patrick Kane. Teravainen has had to sit back and watch as Regin, Joakim Nordstrom and Danault have gotten called up to the Hawks, not him. The belief within the organization is that he’ll be ready someday, and perhaps someday soon — but that he’s not ready yet.
The Hawks have been very aware of the hype surrounding Teravainen, and have done everything they could to temper expectations on the 20-year-old. It’s one of the reasons they’ve been so conservative with him, playing him in just three games last spring before sending him back to Rockford before the playoffs.
“I don’t know if that affected any[thing] at all,” Teravainen said of the hype. “I’m just trying to focus [on] my own thing here. I know there’s such expectations and everything for me, but I’m just trying to do my job here.”
As he does that, as he tries to fit in down in Rockford as a square peg in a round hole, the Hawks are keeping a close eye on him, waiting for the right time to pull the trigger.
“Let’s just let it unfold the way it unfolds,” Bowman said. “He’s playing a lot, he’s getting a lot of exposure in offensive situations, he’s always learning the two-way game. That’s the one good thing about Teuvo relative to other young offensive players: he’s got a real good instinct defensively. He doesn’t cheat the game. He understands how to play without the puck; the Finns are typically good at that. So he learned the right way, where other high-end scorers at that age struggle defensively. It’ll serve him well when he eventually comes to the NHL.”
Eventually. Just not necessarily imminently.
Contributing: Brian Sandalow