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More confident Teravainen working his way up Hawks lineup

Teuvo Teravainen has four shots on goal in his two games with the Blackhawks this season. (Sun-Times Photo)

Teuvo Teravainen believed he was ready to play for the Blackhawks last spring. He believed he was ready to make the team out of training camp in the fall. And every time there was an injury in Chicago this season, he believed he was ready to get the call-up from Rockford.

But it was never about whether Teravainen believed in himself. It was about whether Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman believed in him. And as it usually does for any prospect, that took a while.

“I felt like I could play in the NHL,” Teravainen said. “I just had to wait for my time.”

The time is here, and based on his first two games, the 20-year-old rookie is quickly gaining Quenneville’s trust. In his first game against Dallas, he saw some time on the power play, and moved from the fourth line to the third line. In his second game against Colorado, he moved up to the second line for stretches, alternating between center and left wing, playing six shifts with Patrick Kane and two with Marian Hossa.

He played about 10 minutes each night. But the fact that Quenneville’s putting him in such high-profile situations is a sign of how far Teravainen has come since his three-game stint with the Hawks in March.

“I think he’s moving better,” Quenneville said. “I think he looks bigger. I think he looks quicker. Positionally, I thought he was more aware.”

More aggressive, too. He had three shots on goal against Dallas. And against Colorado, he had a couple of nice passes to set up scoring opportunities. Quenneville didn’t like how timid Teravainen played at times in March. He looks far more confident and comfortable now.

And that was the point of his 33-game stint in the AHL. There was never a plan, a set timetable. But clearly, Teravainen needed to build his confidence and adapt to the North American style of hockey.

“Organizationally, we said he’ll tell us when it’s time,” Quenneville said. “It’s a good process for him, and I think it was a good experience for him that he got some American League time and had to work his way to get to this level.”

That’s not to say Teravianen was thrilled about the wait. He was frustrated with the dump-and-chase style of the AHL, to which he was ill-suited. And he could only watch as Peter Regin, Joakim Nordstrom and Philip Danault got call-ups ahead of him. But he also knew he had nobody to blame but himself. Through his first 20 games, he had just three goals and seven assists.

“They earned those chances, they played really good at those times,” Teravainen said. “I wasn’t playing that good. I was happy for them, but I wanted to play better. I wanted to work harder and get my game back, and I found that, so that was good.”

Teravainen earned his call-up with a strong stretch in December, posting three goals and seven assists in his last 13 Rockford contests.

“He’s played a lot better the last month in Rockford, and played with more confidence,” IceHogs coach Ted Dent said. “You could just see it on the ice — playing in all different situations. So hopefully, he’s ready for the chance.”

So far, so good. But just as there was no plan for his arrival, there’s no plan for his first significant NHL stint, either. He’s got a few weeks, at least, before Kris Versteeg’s return from a left hand injury forces the Hawks to make some lineup decisions. And the more confident Teravainen looks, and the more trust he earns, the more likely he is to stay for good.

Of course, he believes he should be. But once again, it’s up to him to prove it.

“I feel good, and I’m really excited to be here,” he said. “And if I keep working hard and playing my best, hopefully I’ll be here a long time.”

Contributing: Brian Sandalow

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus