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Versatile Teuvo Teravainen becoming key member of Blackhawks

Last season’s surprise playoff star, forward Teuvo Teravainen, 21, is quietly becoming one of Chicago’s most important players.

When Teuvo Teravainen burst on the scene five months ago as a surprise playoff hero for the Chicago Blackhawks, delivering four goals and six assists during their run to the Stanley Cup, his sudden explosion was a big story. Drafted by Chicago with the 18th pick in 2012 NHL draft, the rookie forward was certainly regarded as a dynamic playmaker when he came out of the Jokerit organization in his home country of Finland, but he spent over half of the 2014-15 regular season with the AHL Rockford IceHogs and had been fairly quiet (four goals in 34 games) during his two stints with the big club. Only 20 years old, Teravainen wasn’t exactly expected to set the world on fire during his first season in the Show.

“It’s smaller ice and everything comes quicker, and it’s faster,” Teravainen says of North American hockey. “I was maybe a little nervous at first, I tried to play it safe and smart.”

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That’s what made his coming-out party in the playoffs so fun to watch. Two months after being brought back up to the NHL (and less than two years after moving to the U.S.), he scored the game-tying goal and had the winning assist in Game 1 of the Cup Final against Tampa Bay. Before he was legally allowed to drink a beer in his new country, he was scoring game-altering goals on a national stage with the swagger and flair of a 10-year veteran.

Then, just as he was getting used to the way things worked, everything changed. The Blackhawks are known for winning, and also for shipping off big names after their championship runs in order to stay under the strictest salary cap in professional sports. Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya, Antoine Vermette and Kris Versteeg were just some of the players who were out the door by training camp. At the beginning of the 2015-16 season, only nine players who scored a goal for the Hawks in the 2015 playoffs were left on the active roster—one of them being Teravainen.

So, although he still hasn’t played a complete season in the NHL, the expectations that Teravainen is facing have grown considerably. He’s shown that he can deliver in big moments, but his impressive performance in the playoffs created more pressure to succeed consistently. Now he needs to prove that he can be a key piece of a championship contender for years to come. In other words, the real test has begun.

If Teravainen has been fazed by all the change and demands, you don’t see it in the locker room. You see a confident, calm player, one who jokes with the veterans and fits in like he’s been around for far longer than he has. He’s not shy in front of the media anymore, and he has no doubts about his game.

“I feel more comfortable this year,” Teravainen says. “I got huge experience from last year, of course, and we have a great group of new guys here.”

But with more responsibility on the ice comes a new learning curve, and Teravainen’s first full season hasn’t been without its ups and downs. Right after the Hawks raised their championship banner in the season opener, he picked up right where he left off, scoring his team’s second goal in a loss to the New York Rangers. Two games later, he assisted on a Brent Seabrook power play goal in a 4–1 win over the New York Islanders. Then his production tailed off, and he managed just one goal and no assists in the next six games. He was a healthy scratch in the Hawks’ October 29 game against Winnipeg, and for the first time since the playoffs, he spent an entire game watching from the bench.

“It’s always tough to watch the games, you always want to play and help the team,” he says. “But I knew I hadn’t played good hockey. It was maybe good to watch one game from the side, and see what you have to do out there and get better.”

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The different perspective gave him a jolt, and he’s gotten back on track in a big way. During the third period of the Blackhawks’ game against the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 2, Patrick Kane fed Teravainen a short pass in front of the net. Gliding past defenseman Jake Muzzin, Teravainen coolly put the puck in the back of the net. Former Conn Smythe-winning goalie Jonathan Quick didn’t even see him coming.

This was just four days after being benched, and the goal turned out to be the game winner. Two nights later, he notched a goal and an assist in Chicago’s 6–5 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues. Two nights after that he assisted on a Tanner Kero goal on the road in a 4–2 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

Coach Joel Quenneville insists he wasn’t sending Teravainen a message by having him sit, but if he was, the message was surely received.

“[He’s] been effective in the last couple games scoring,” Quenneville says. “He’s dangerous with the puck, he seems like he’s got a little more patience with it, and he’s more comfortable with it.”

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Teravainen appears to have regained his swagger of late as he continues to gain experience and carve out his growing role on the team. With an entirely revamped roster, Quenneville has mixed and matched his young forward with several different line combinations early in the season. Recently, Teravainen was bumped up to the starting line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa in a 4–2 win over the Edmonton Oilers. He’s also logged time with Patrick Kane, although Quenneville has preferred the Kane-ArtemiPanarin-Artem Anisimov combination. But he’s still felt comfortable moving Teravainen all throughout the lineup, and at different positions.

“He can be a real productive guy for us, playing left center and right,” Quenneville said. “His role is very flexible.”

Injuries to Marian Hossa and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Duncan Keith have surely had a negative impact on the Blackhawks’ play. They also had to deal with the distraction that came from all the controversy surrounding Kane during the off-season and early going. But through it all,Teravainen has kept his focus. In his limited time in the NHL, he’s gone from being an unheralded rookie to an important member of the defending champions. With rookie Panarin stealing the spotlight, Teravainen has been able to quietly go about his job of helping the team anyway he can. And his best is surely yet to come.

After all, he is still only 21 years old.

“It’s true that I’m one year older now,” he says. “But I’m still one of the youngest guys here. For myself, I just want to keep getting better and getting more of a role on the team.”