Teuvo Teravainen is the ultimate pass-first player, the kind of reflexive playmaker who would give serious consideration to a drop pass in the midst of an unobstructed breakaway. So in the wake of signing a big new contract with Carolina, would Teravainen alter his game to…shoot more?
“Maybe,” Teravainen said, with more than a hint of coyness. “You get some confidence. You know the team believes in you, it gives of course confidence, and I feel like I really belong here.”
He’s certainly scoring more. In the nine games after signing a five-year extension worth $5.4 million per season in late January, Teravainen scored seven of his 17 goals. And he is indeed shooting more: 2.6 shots per game, up from about two shots per game before the extension. Hey, it’s a start.
For those who know him, and perhaps no one knows him better than fellow Finn and frequent linemate Sebastian Aho, the results are what they would have expected. “His shot is underrated,” Aho said. “He can shoot the puck. And he could shoot even more. It’s pretty obvious he’s a good player.”
It’s another example of how Teravainen confounds definition – productive without being flashy, a perimeter finesse player who can take a hit and excels on defense. In three seasons with the Hurricanes, Teravainen has improved each year, from 42 points to 64 to a 70-plus point pace in 2018-19.
At 24, Teravainen may not have developed into the dazzling playmaking winger the Hurricanes hoped they were getting when the Chicago Blackhawks had to cut their 2012 first-round pick loose for cap reasons, but Teravainen has evolved into a useful, versatile, well-rounded player. When the Hurricanes started making decisions about which expiring contracts they wanted to renew, Teravainen was near the top of the list. “I feel like my defense has gotten a lot better every year, and I’m not physical but I try to play good with my stick and be in good position,” Teravainen said. “Try to be smart. I feel like it’s something you have to have if you want to stay in this league. As a young kid when I came here, I was more just an offensive player. I had to figure it out.”
He may never make an NHL All-Star Game or be immortalized online in a GIF for some jaw-dropping pass, but he’s the guy for every coach who ever babbled on about “doing all the little things.” Teravainen is far better at the little things than he is at some of the big things. There’s a subtlety to his game that doesn’t come through in a highlight package.
And Teravainen isn’t going to get Selke Trophy consideration because he isn’t a center, and he doesn’t always log big minutes against the opposition’s top line, but he’s actually one of the Hurricanes’ best defensive forwards: his quick hands and hockey sense make him a disruptive force at the defensive blueline. “The naked eye, the non-trained eye, sees a guy who’s not physical and takes advantage of his chances,” said Hurricanes captain Justin Williams. “I see a guy who’s physical, wins a lot of 1-on-1 battles and is very smart. Because being physical doesn’t mean running someone over. Being physical means getting involved, and he’s got one of the best sticks on the team. That’s why he creates so many turnovers. He’s always in the right spot. And he’s become somewhat of a pretty good penalty-killer.”
The turning point in the Hurricanes’ season might have arrived in December when Aho and Teravainen were given regular PK duties and quickly emerged as a two-headed two-way force. With stolid shorthanded defensemen such as Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Calvin de Haan, the two Finns were free to use their speed, skill and smarts on the attack. The Hurricanes have been the better for it ever since.
While it’s a valid criticism that Teravainen can spend too much time on the perimeter, he also excels at making plays and creating chances from there. His on-again, off-again partnership with Aho has been a major factor in Aho’s meteoric rise. It seems like the two share a brain, but it’s really a mesh of Aho’s determination with Teravainen’s instincts. When Micheal Ferland got off to such a hot start this season, it was in part because he was the beneficiary of their combination play. “We think the game the same way, just try to look for each other,” Aho said. “Sometimes the chemistry is just there and it’s hard to say why.”
It’s subtle. But so is Teravainen. – Luke DeCock
EASTERN CONFERENCE HIDDEN GEMS
BOSTON BRUINS: Sure, he’s a first-rounder, but since Jake DeBrusk was part of the maligned three consecutive picks in the top 20 at the 2015 draft, his ascendancy with the B’s counts as a surprise. Tough to play against and skilled, DeBrusk has provided crucial secondary scoring.
BUFFALO SABRES: You forgot about Zach Bogosian, didn’t you? The Sabres haven’t, as the veteran has been important on and off the ice for the young team. Injuries have dogged his career, but Bogosian is healthy and playing 21 minutes a night while serving as a mentor for rookie Rasmus Dahlin.
CAROLINA HURRICANES: It was early February when Jordan Martinook set a career high for goals with 12, and the sturdy bottom-sixer was also pushing the puck in the right direction. Martinook has a robust Corsi rating of 56 percent, kills penalties and is one of the team leaders in game-winning goals.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: Playing the right wing on a bruising second line, Josh Anderson is on pace to smash his previous bests for offense while also doling out frontier justice when the Blue Jackets need it. The power forward is judicious in his decisions, but he did have a dandy of a tilt with Jamie Benn.
DETROIT RED WINGS: Somebody has to play on the top line of a bad team. Tyler Bertuzzi happens to be an interesting fit. A late second-round pick in 2013, Todd’s nephew can get under an opponent’s skin like few others, and his ability to put up offense makes him even more infuriating.
FLORIDA PANTHERS: Even though he was a Memorial Cup champion with Halifax, MacKenzie Weegar was never a highly sought-after prospect. Florida got him with a seventh-round flyer and, after working his way up from the ECHL, the sturdy D-man is having a nice season from a possession perspective.
MONTREAL CANADIENS: Originally the prospect return in a deadline deal with Chicago in 2016, Phillip Danault has blossomed into a capable two-way center who drives possession and can play with top-end wingers. With 20 games to go, Danault had career highs in assists, points and time on ice.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: There haven’t been many positives for the Devils, but the Blake Coleman’s development qualifies. The solid shutdown center has been a demon on the penalty kill and is on pace for career-best totals. The Texas native is easy on the cap, locked in for two years at a $1.8-million AAV.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Traditionally known for his defense and physicality, Scott Mayfield has been a solid driver of possession with a Corsi of 50.5, one of the best on the team. He’s playing decent minutes, contributing offensively and still drops the gloves. Mayfield leads the Isles with four fights.
NEW YORK RANGERS: College free agent Neal Pionk has become one of the Rangers’ most important blueliners in his second year of pro hockey, second-half slump excluded. The Minnesota-Duluth alum leads New York in ice time (and shorthanded ice time) while also moving the puck well on the power play.
OTTAWA SENATORS: Part of the Erik Karlsson return package, Chris Tierney brought a lot of good elements with him from San Jose. His professionalism helps on a young team, while his hockey sense and two-way skills contribute to his penalty-killing acumen. And the offense is good.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: It’s a shame hardnosed blueliner Radko Gudas delivers so many inexplicable, suspension-worthy hits, as he plays effective shutdown hockey when he’s staying in the lineup. The solidly built Czech has often dominated possession when facing top-end foes.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: The whole point of Brian Dumoulin is he’s boring. It’s the best compliment you can pay a shutdown D-man. The veteran plays against top competition, blocks shots, throws hits and has a positive impact on possession. He’s second on the team in ice time despite no power-play minutes.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: Anthony Cirelli has always been clutch. The Memorial Cup winner started his NHL career as a support player, but the talented and hardworking Cirelli is contributing more. He won 52.3 percent of his faceoffs and had four game-winning goals despite playing less than 15 minutes a night.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: The Leafs likely can’t afford to keep pending UFA Jake Gardiner, but if they need a puck-mover to step up, Travis Dermott has proven he can be that guy (and maybe a more responsible one than Gardiner). The 22-year-old has been a possession beast so far.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS: It’s hard to be underrated on the defending champs, but goalie Pheonix Copley has been instrumental in keeping the Caps near the top. The North Pole product (that’s in Alaska, and it’s real) has been good enough to give Braden Holtby nights off, and the two have similar SPs.