Without the cap space or roster spot for Teuvo Teravainen, the relationship between the Chicago Blackhawks and their top prospect is beginning to seem strained. If the relationship stays this way, the Blackhawks are playing a dangerous game.
Late last season – March 25, to be exact – Teuvo Teravainen debuted for the Chicago Blackhawks. Though he is the most highly touted prospect in the organization since the arrival of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Teravainen only stuck around for three games.
After playing those few games for the Blackhawks, Teravainen found a seat on the sidelines. Little more than a week later, after being scratched for four consecutive games, he was demoted to the American League’s Rockford Ice Hogs. Teravainen hasn’t been back since. As the wait for his shot back with the big club gets longer, the more it feels like there’s trouble in prospect paradise for the Blackhawks.
When he first learned of his demotion in late-2014, Teravainen, then 19, took it in stride.
“I was kind of thinking maybe it would be better for me to come here and play some games,” the Finnish center told Chicago Sun-Times reporter Brian Sandalow at the time of his demotion. “It’s better than just practice.”
Play some games he has. Matter of fact, they’re the only games he’s played, and there’s no mistaking that Teravainen feels he’s more than ready. In fact, in that same interview with Sandalow, Teravainen said he felt that he was good enough to be playing in the NHL before his demotion, citing that he had played against men for at least a couple of years in his native Finland. His attitude toward the demotion was positive, but it was clear he was already frustrated.
Which brings us to the off-season. After a deep run in the playoffs, the Blackhawks had some holes to fill. Most notably, maybe, was the hole at second line center. With Toews anchoring the team’s top unit, there was a rotating cast of centers below him throughout 2013-14, the list including Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, and Michal Handzus. It seemed like Teravainen’s job to lose.
Then, the Blackhawks and GM Stan Bowman went out and got Brad Richards. Richards, who had been bought out by the New York Rangers, immediately assumed the role of center on the second unit, and now Teravainen had no spot. Before the season began, he was sent back to Rockford again.
Speaking with ESPN’s Scott Powers at the beginning of the season, Teravainen said that the demotion is what it is but that he wasn’t surprised. But again, he echoed the sentiment about playing against men, in a good league, and feeling that he was ready to make the jump.
"I played like three years in pro hockey in Finland," Teravainen told Powers. "I played with men, and it's a good league in Finland.”
He added that jumping to the next level – in this case, the NHL – only makes the game easier because you’re playing alongside more talented players. Teravainen’s style of play, which would absolutely be classified as a skill game, is the kind that would benefit from players who can play a similar style. Now, the frustrations of being in the AHL are starting to show.
In a recent interview with Powers, Teravainen said he’s not sure if he’s happy with his play or not and that AHL hockey may not be his type of game. Maybe the rigors of the dump and chase style aren’t well suited to the 5-foot-11, 178 pound center, and Rockford coach Ted Dent said as much, adding that it’s not a perimeter game anymore.
The issue isn’t that Teravainen is in the AHL, though, and it certainly isn’t his play while he’s down there. The issue is that he hasn’t been given his shot. That’s partially due to the arrival of Richards and partially due to where Teravainen would need to slot in to be effective. Most likely best utilized as the second line center, Teravainen has been passed over by the likes of Phillip Danault, Joakim Nordstrom, and Peter Regin – all players that are better suited to bottom-six minutes.
As the wait for Teravainen grows longer and the calendar inches closer to 2015, it feels as though his opportunity may never come. An injury to Patrick Sharp didn’t get him the call, nor did one to Andrew Shaw. Richards has shown his age at times this season, but with a healthy lineup, Teravainen can’t be up in Chicago to replace him because he wouldn’t fit under the cap.
And that’s part of the problem. The salary cap crunch for the Blackhawks is hurting their chance at bringing Teravainen into the fold. When they bring him up and their lineup is full, they’re $46,000 over the cap.
With two months of the season almost over, it’s beginning to feel more like an “if” than a “when” for Teravainen. And that’s a problem. If his frustration continues to mount, who can say if he’ll want to remain a part of the organization? Like Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Hayes, and Dylan Olsen before him, he may end up elsewhere.
The Blackhawks would do well to make sure that doesn’t happen, because it sure feels like Teravainen would be the type of player that could make sure they regret it.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: A change was made to this article to correct Teravainen's nationality. We regret this error.)