Let’s address the Finnish elephant that will be in the room at the United Center on Thursday night.
For years, whenever the Chicago Blackhawks traded away a young player, the trust was there in general manager Stan Bowman and his staff that the Hawks had decided this prospect was not going to be a significant piece of the puzzle going forward and a trade wouldn’t hurt the team. This is what happened with the likes of Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, Dylan Olsen and Adam Clendening.
Lately, though, that belief has taken a few hits with the trade of Phillip Danault and especially with the 2016 trade of Teuvo Teravainen.
Teravainen was widely thought of as a steal when he slipped to the Hawks at No. 18 in the 2012 NHL Draft as an undersized yet offensively gifted skater (that familiar phrase). After a few years of playing as a teenager in the Finnish Elite League but still tearing up the rosters laden with full-grown men, Teravainen made his NHL debut in the 2013-14 season. He played in three games without recording a point, and then it was back to Rockford. Teravainen split the 2014-15 regular season between Chicago and Rockford before earning a spot in 18 of the Hawks’ 23 postseason games en route to a third Stanley Cup victory.
Really, any doubts about Teravainen’s ability to be an NHL player should’ve subsided in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning (if his goal and primary assist against in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final hadn’t done it already).
What the Hawks down 1-0 and just under seven minutes remaining, Teuvo scored one goal with a perfectly-placed wrister just under the crossbar through a Marcus Kruger screen. Two minutes later, he forced a turnover to Antoine Vermette, resulting in the game-winning goal.
And Teravainen was 20 YEARS OLD when he did that. He finished that postseason with 10 points in 18 games. For comparison’s sake, 22-year-old Brandon Saad had 11 points in 23 games with two full regular seasons of NHL experience on Teravainen.
But that game wasn’t the only case to be made for Teravainen. There was an unteachable offensive creativity in the Finnish forward, noted by his penchant for the no-look goal.
And don’t forget that he knew where to go when Patrick Kane went behind the net, drawing the eyes of the defense.
But the play that has always stuck in my mind about Teravainen was a play he made in his NHL debut against the Dallas Stars on March 25, 2014. About 30 feet in front of his own net, in the middle of a Dallas onslaught, he got ahold of a loose puck and made a smooth backhand saucer pass that landed perfectly on the tape of Brandon Saad, who was able to skate the puck out of the zone and relieve the pressure. Take that play, combine it with the ones above, and there are indications of a player who could see the play that needed to be made before he even got to the puck. And just like having the creativity to bury a puck into the net without looking at the goal, it’s something that can’t necessarily be taught.
But after jerking him up and down the lineup in the 2015-16 regular season (and a playoff performance that admittedly wasn’t great in a 7-game series loss to the St. Louis Blues), Bowman elected to use Teravainen as the bait to get the Bryan Bickell contract off the books.
And, 1.75 seasons later, Teravainen appears to be turning into the player that many in the Hawks fan base had thought he could be, given the proper time to develop. Through 67 games, Teravainen has career-highs in goals (19), assists (33) and points (52) and he leads the Carolina Hurricanes in the latter two stats. The possession metrics remain in his favor as well (just as they did in his Chicago tenure), carrying a 56.2 CF% that is 2.7% above the team rate.
Yes, Bickell’s contract was an albatross hanging around the neck of the Blackhawks. But sacrificing one of their best young prospects should not have been accepted as the cost to remove it. Teravainen’s skills were too obvious, his future too bright for Bowman to accept such a low return of a second-round pick (which became 2016 selection Artur Kayumov) and a third-round pick (which became Evan Barratt in 2017).
And now he comes to the United Center as the opponent’s leading scorer. And just didn’t have to be this way.