ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Teuvo Teravainen wasn’t his usual cheerful self as he met with the media after the Rockford IceHogs’ game Sunday.
The 20-year-old Finn knew the questions before they were asked. As the Chicago Blackhawks' top prospect, he has become accustomed to queries about his development and his path to the NHL. He often has been more than happy to provide those answers.
But lately, it has been different for Teravainen. He expected to be in the NHL by now. Even when he was assigned to the AHL out of Blackhawks training camp, the center was optimistic his time in Rockford would be short. It hasn’t been.
Teravainen has been with the IceHogs for nearly two months, and it’s unknown when the Blackhawks will come calling for him. Management has said constantly the team is taking a patient approach with Teravainen and his development. It’s just that Teravainen’s patience is getting tested and his frustration has grown.
“I don’t know if I’m happy or I’m not happy [about my game],” Teravainen said Sunday. “I just try to play here. I know it’s pretty hard playing here. It’s different hockey. It’s not my type of hockey maybe, AHL hockey. I think there’s a difference with NHL hockey and AHL hockey. I’m just trying to do my job here and play my best."
Not being in the NHL is part of Teravainen’s frustration, but another part is the style of most AHL games. Teravainen thrives on puck possession and offensive skill, and the AHL isn’t always the best canvas for that.
The Blackhawks aren’t looking to change Teravainen’s game, but they have been trying to get him to adapt.
“He’s just trying to find his way, a little inconsistent maybe,” IceHogs coach Ted Dent said. “I think he would be the first to tell you he wants to play better. He wants to be better. He wants to have the puck more. He’s just going to have to learn, you know, at this level you have to go and get it. You have to battle hard in the tough areas to get the puck. It’s not a perimeter game. You have to play between the dots at times and you have to go to the net as well.”
Dent has seen brilliance from Teravainen. Dent thought the center played his best game for the IceHogs last week, when he had two assists in a victory over the Texas Stars. Dent has also seen Teravainen struggle.
Dent said he understood the whole experience must be taxing on Teravainen, and that it has led to some frustration. Dent, like the Blackhawks, has preached patience.
“Maybe lots of different things going through his head,” Dents aid. “You know it just takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight for some guys, as we’ve seen in the past with the [Brandon] Pirris, the [Jeremy] Morins, the [Jimmy] Hayes, the [Dylan] Olsens. It doesn’t happen instantaneously where they become NHL players in their first 10 games here, with the exception of guys like [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews that bypass the American League and went right to the NHL. For me, it’s just a process, and he’s just starting that path.”
Mark Bernard, the Blackhawks' hockey-administration director and minor league affiliations general manager, took in Sunday’s game between the IceHogs and Chicago Wolves. Bernard said his message to Teravainen has been the same as that coming from Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman.
“I think that’s the biggest word -- patience with the process,” Bernard said. “Teuvo is coming over [from Finland]. He’s 20 years old. This is a foreign country for him. He’s left a lot behind, his family. He’s learning the game on a smaller ice surface where things develop and happen a lot quicker. I think he’s right on track. We don’t want to push this kid too hard. We don’t want to put pressure on him. He’s going to develop at a nice pace. When he’s needed in Chicago, I’m sure he’ll be ready.
“People forget Bryan Bickell spent four years in Rockford/Norfolk and Corey Crawford spent five. They’ve turned out to be pretty good National Hockey League players. So I think it’ll be a good transition for all of our players. It’ll be something Teuvo might look back on in a few years’ time and go, ‘You know what? That was time well spent for me.'"
Teravainen has often measured his game by his point totals. He typically has been among his team's offensive leaders wherever he’s gone. Those numbers aren’t adding up for him this season -- he has two goals and eight assists in 17 games -- and that has been another area of frustration.
“I know I need some points,” Teravainen said. “I know I need to affect some offensive game. Right now, I have no points in this weekend. Of course, I’m not too happy. Our team is winning, so that’s all that matters. If I’m not getting any points, I need to [play] defense well. I think I played good defense [Sunday]. That’s all that matters.”
Teravainen’s agent, Chicago-based Markus Lehto, has tried to keep Teravainen from focusing on such things as his stats. Lehto wants Teravainen to utilize the AHL to get better in specific areas and prepare him for the NHL.
“I tell Teuvo to look beyond the numbers,” Lehto said. “Concentrate on the details. Faceoffs are really, really important. They determine whether your team has the puck. One-on-one battles, use your quick stick, use your quick feet and even use your body.
“Don’t worry about the numbers and whether you’re leading the league in scoring. That shouldn’t be a factor whether he’s ready to play in the NHL or not. I’m not saying the guys aren’t good in Rockford. I’m saying the guys with the Blackhawks are a little better than in Rockford. The points he has in Rockford might be double with the Blackhawks. Work on the details, and, yes, work on the difference between European hockey and North American hockey, even if American League hockey is different than the NHL.”
Lehto has also worked with Teravainen to not fall in the rut of worrying about when his NHL opportunity will come. Lehto said he and Bowman have had an open dialogue about Teravainen.
“It’s about being mentally tough and seeing the big picture,” Lehto said. “No just floating around and going through the emotions and waiting for that day. ‘When is someone coming to pick me up?’ It’s not about that. It’s about playing hockey. It’s not NHL hockey, but you adjust.”
Teravainen is trying to follow that advice.
“I know [the Blackhawks have] played good here,” Teravainen said. “The Blackhawks take whoever they want there. I’m trying to stay positive and be ready whenever they need me.”