We've been gushing about the prospect of Teuvo Teravainen for so long, it's easy to forget that the young Finnish forward is just 20 years old. While we all argue about his present (and future) with the Chicago Blackhawks, he's probably trying to convince Brandon Saad or Patrick Kane to buy him a six-pack at the local grocery store. (They would never do that, though! It's against the law, people.)
Of course, most of the time, nobody would confuse Teuvo for being any older than 20. He's still got the baby face of a teenager who hasn't been weathered by the cruelty of age, and at 5'11, 169 pounds, he's not exactly an intimidating physical presence. Teuvo may be a hockey phenom, but you wouldn't know unless you saw him working with his hands.
Over the past 10 days, we've finally got to see those delightful hands partnered with the Blackhawks, to mixed results. Teravainen still hasn't scored his first NHL point after seven games -- including three late last season -- and he's not exactly peppering the net with shots.
However, the talent is undeniable. Whether it's a smart bit of positioning on a drive into the offensive zone or the deft touch on a difficult pass, Teuvo has shown an aptitude for offense-minded hockey that's unpredictable, exciting, and downright impressive. Even if the production hasn't been there yet, we're already seeing a young player with the makings of a top-six contributor.
(Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)
One thing that immediately stands out about Teravainen can be gleaned from possession statistics. For a young player who's only in the infancy stages of understanding Joel Quenneville's system and the pacing of NHL hockey, he's regularly been able to drive possession in the right direction when on the ice.
Teravainen's Corsi relative, which compares the number of shots for/against relative to the rest of the team while playing even strength, is at plus-10.2 percent. Again, that's compared to the rest of 'Hawks, who are as good as anyone at playing with the puck. Teuvo's been fairly consistent, too, posting positive possession numbers every night:
That's a player making a legitimate contribution, even if the goals aren't there yet. And if you prefer Fenwick, those numbers tell a similar story: Teravainen has a plus-8.8 percent Fenwick relative at even strength. When you see these numbers and the artistry Teuvo shows with the puck, it feels like a matter of time before the bounces start going his way.
Now, there are admittedly caveats. First, there's the sample size, which makes this something of a fool's errand in terms of actually projecting his development. Then you look at a guy like Jeremy Morin, whose possessions numbers have taken a step back in Columbus. It's undeniable that playing in Quenneville's system with this kind of talent benefits a player's possession numbers.
And finally, there are the zone starts, where Teravainen is clearly being positioned as an offensive weapon. He's taken 72.2 percent of his zone starts in the offensive end so far, and research has shown that possession numbers often benefit from that kind of usage.
So it's possible that Teravainen is simply riding a confluence of good factors that aren't sustainable. We've seen other young Blackhawks drive possession without really producing before.
Teuvo seems to be different, though, both for some of the reasons listed above and for things you can only see by watching him. There's an energy to his play that surpasses anything Morin could contribute, from his initial burst on the puck to the pinpoint passes that seemingly surprise more experienced teammates. There's the fact that he's playing wing, despite spending most of his development at center. We've also seen the highlights from Europe and Rockford, and the prospect lists that gush over his offensive potential.
There were plays like this one during preseason, too:
It's not like we collectively woke up one day and decided this guy was destined for great things. He's simply been affirming already high expectations.
The first 10 days of Teravainen's time with the Blackhawks this season haven't been perfect, but there's little doubt the team has something interesting in hand. Even if some patience will be necessary as he fills out physically and wraps his head around the nuances of NHL hockey, that's the cost of doing business with pretty much any young player.
And unlike Morin, who never quite showed he was worthy of playing time on a stacked Blackhawks team, Teravainen makes you jump out of your seat at least once a game. Teuvo feels far closer to breaking through than Morin did, even though he's over three years younger (seriously, this final point cannot be stressed enough. TEUVO IS 20!!). I'm surprised the guy doesn't have a point yet this season. Toss in the contracts, and it's pretty clear how this is different from the last time Chicago tried to work a young forward into its lineup.
Is Teuvo going to be an impact player on the defensive end any time soon? Probably not. Is he slightly undersized for battling the game's best forwards? Yeah sure, at the moment. He's also a legitimately intriguing offensive talent who appears talented and creative enough to keep his head above water while working through those things.
This wasn't the ideal debut for Teravainen this season, but he's done little to dispel the notion that he's a rising star in the Windy City. While it stinks that Kris Versteeg had to get injured to get us here, I imagine we'll be pretty grateful that Teuvo is around soon enough.