Putting aside Patrick Kane's injury for a moment, though, Teuvo Time is here again, and Teravainen, the organization’s top prospect, is as prepared as he’s ever been to contribute to the Blackhawks.
Let's be clear, he isn’t stepping into Kane’s skates and picking up the offensive load. That responsibility still falls on Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brandon Saad, Kris Versteeg, etc. But Teravainen, 20, returns to the Blackhawks with confidence, NHL experience and success behind him. He knows what he’s getting into, and, and just as important, the Blackhawks and coach Joel Quenneville know what Teravainen is bringing back.
“Teuvo’s come in, showed that he’s an NHL player,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said in late January. “That’s nice to know. A couple months ago, we thought he was. Now we’ve seen him do it. We know he can do it. So we got a lot of weapons.”
The Blackhawks took a patient approach with Teravainen this season. They started him in the AHL and gave him a lot of ice time and put him in a lot of different situations from 5-on-5 to power play to penalty kill. It was often frustrating for Teravainen and fans for him to be in the AHL. Both parties wanted him in the NHL as quick as possible, but the Blackhawks stuck with their long-term plan. Now, this is where it’s supposed to pay off.
Teravainen got his longest look in the NHL when Kris Versteeg injured his hand in the Winter Classic. Teravainen spent 15 games with the Blackhawks. There were some highs and lows, but everyone appeared to be pleased with the overall stint. Quenneville spoke favorably of Teravainen’s all-around game. There were no hard feelings when Teravainen returned to the AHL because there was an understanding the Blackhawks didn’t have a top-9 role for him.
Teravainen returned to the AHL in early February and continued to have a positive attitude, according to Rockford IceHogs coach Ted Dent. Teravainen is coming back to the Blackhawks more comfortable than he’s ever been in the NHL.
“I think anytime you get some games under your belt, you know what to expect,” Dent said on Wednesday. “You know how Joel likes things. You know how they run their operation on a day-to-day basis. Now that he’s going to back, that can only help him.”
Teravainen could see an ever larger role this time around. His biggest opportunity could come on the power play. It’s an area he’s excelled in with the IceHogs. The IceHogs use a 1-3-1 power-play system and Teravainen is utilized on the right-half wall.
“For us, it’s just his vision,” Dent said. “We don’t really have a player like him on his team. He adds an element on that ice for the power play that gives us a chance every time we’re out there at our level. It seemed to be clicking pretty well before he left.”
The Blackhawks also have the option to put Teravainen in a variety of forward spots. Since returning to the IceHogs on Feb. 12, Teravainen saw time at the left wing, right wing and center. He played mostly on the right wing with the Blackhawks the last time up.
Dent has coached Teravainen more than anyone in the past year, and he’s seen growth over that time, especially in his puck possession and protection.
“I think he’s played with more confidence offensively with the puck, holding onto it longer to make plays,” Dent said. “Defensively with us, his awareness has always been good.
“Puck protection is huge when you do have the puck. When you’re going head to head against some of the defensemen in the NHL; they’re big bodies and strong men. Teuvo is developing strength. Some of that stuff takes time. You realize the areas you can go to in the offensive zone, and you know you’re going to get bumped or you’re going to get hit. Now that he’s played 15 games, I’m sure he’s starting to figure it out a little more.”