Blackhawks: Teuvo Teravainen feeling more like himself at center


Blackhawks: Teuvo Teravainen feeling more like himself at center

DALLAS – Teuvo Teravainen isn’t used to this.

The Blackhawks forward has played all over the lineup this season, from left wing to right wing, top line to third line. But for several weeks now he’s stayed put, centering the team’s third line.

That stability has been nice.

“Yeah, it makes things a little easier when you know you’re in the same spot every game,” Teravainen said. “You get in the same situations in games over and over, so that makes your game easier.”

Teravainen has looked better and has been a more consistent player since settling into that third-line center role. He scored his 11th goal of the season in the Blackhawks’ 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Friday night and has found chemistry with new linemate Tomas Fleischmann, who also scored against the Stars. It’s a role that fits Teravainen well, and it’s a role it appears he’ll have for some time.

“I think positionally he’s strong, defensively aware, offensively dangerous,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We play him in all situations which is good for us. I think he’s progressing fine.”

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Andrew Desjardins, who was Teravainen’s linemate for a few weeks — he was on the fourth line against the Stars — said Teravainen has a strong hockey sense.

“I think he’s a really intelligent player,” Desjardins said. “People don’t realize how good he is defensively. He’s a real intelligent player and I think you need that as a center. He gets down low, makes the right plays and obviously you get him in the offensive zone, he’s creative. He’s done an amazing job moving around like that. He’s adapted well.”

Indeed, Teravainen moved around plenty for most of this season. It showed the Blackhawks trusted him in all situations but the transitions weren’t always easy. As general manager Stan Bowman said around the trade deadline, it was great that Teravainen showed versatility but giving him a more concrete, set assignment was best for him.

Right now, it’s showing. Teravainen remains strong defensively and has added more offensively; he has points in five of his last six games (goal, four assists). Teravainen was overthinking some previous assignments. That’s not the case with this one.

“I feel pretty good. I think I feel pretty natural,” he said. “I don’t think too much so that’s a good thing. I just go out there and play.”

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Teravainen and Fleischmann, acquired from the Montreal Canadiens a few days before the trade deadline, have clicked well. Dale Weise, who the Blackhawks picked up along with Fleischmann, joined those two on the third line in Dallas. Time will tell if those three all work well together but there’s no doubt Teravainen and Fleischmann have already.

“He’s really fast and skilled, and thinks the game right way,” said Teravainen of Fleischmann, who had a goal and an assist against the Stars. “He’s a pretty smart guy, so it’s easy.”

The game overall is coming easier for Teravainen right now. He feels comfortable at center. Sure, there are a few things he needs to work on but for the most part, he may have found the role that suits him best.

“Just little things like face-offs and battles in our own zone. I’ve got to get strong and it takes some time,” Teravainen said. “But overall I think I just try to be in the middle, get open and be myself. I’ll be fine.”

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Jonathan Toews watched a lot of playoff hockey this spring. 

"Quite a bit," he admitted Wednesday before making his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut at MB Ice Arena. "More than usual."

That's because the Blackhawks missed out on the postseason for the first time since his rookie year in 2007-08. It's obviously not a position he'd like himself or his team to be in, especially after experiencing three Stanley Cups in a six-year span.

But you have to find a way to take the positives out of it at this point and let it fuel you for the upcoming campaign.

"You always want to be there playing," Toews said. "But when you can maybe step away from the game a little bit and just kind of breathe and — at the same time, look back and realize you’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of success. Obviously there’s no satisfaction there, but you understand it’s not the worst thing to stop and smell the roses and appreciate what you’ve been able to experience, because I think failing to get to the playoffs makes you realize how difficult it really is and maybe it’s something you took for granted.

"But watching more hockey this spring, I think, is something that was really motivating and kind of inspiring and exciting to want to get back to that level again. You dream of playing in the NHL, but at the end of the day, you want to play playoff hockey. That’s what it’s all about."

There were plenty of things that went wrong for the Blackhawks last season and contributed to why they watched the playoffs from home, whether it's the Corey Crawford injury, the down season from Brandon Saad, or the inexperience on the blue line.

For Toews, who turned 30 in April, it's about regaining that old form that made him one of the top players in the NHL and hoping it can filter down the rest of the Blackhawks lineup.

"For me, it’s part of just recapturing that energy, that motivation, excitement and that mindset of a young player who takes nothing for granted, that you had in your younger days," he said. "But also carrying the experience with you and understanding the impact of what you say, what you do, how you carry yourself can impact your teammates, especially the young guys. For me, it comes down to knowing what to say at the right time. But letting my play be the thing that helps me lead by example. No better time than now to use that experience and that excitement trying to rebound off the season we had last year."

If there's any reason to have belief that the Blackhawks can turn it around quickly, look no further than the two teams that collided in the Stanley Cup Final: Vegas and Washington. 

The Golden Knights had the longest odds to win it all at the beginning of the season while the Capitals' championship window was perceived to be closed after they failed to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017 in the second round yet again with a loaded roster. But it's not about what's on paper.

"Watching that last series, you just knew it came down to who had the most, the deepest belief in themselves," Toews said. "I even had a hard time predicting who was going to win every series. It could’ve gone either way in a lot of situations. It’s not only motivating, seeing how fast that play was and to have missed out on playoff hockey this year and to have the drive to get back there, but knowing if you do sneak into the playoffs it doesn’t matter. You can go a long way.

"For us, thinking, 'OK, we're gonna back and win a Stanley Cup this year,' it sounds like a long shot. But as always, our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs and being ready to hit our stride when we get there."

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

The Blackhawks had cap space to use this summer but elected to shore up their depth rather than make a splash when free agency opened up on July 1. Perhaps a large reason for that was because Marian Hossa's $5.275 million cap hit over the next three years complicated what they could do exactly in the short term without jeopardizing the long term.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman admitted Tuesday that they had had discussions about moving Hossa's contract for a year now. But it finally reached a point where they simply needed to get it off their hands, even if it meant giving up Vinnie Hinostroza as a sweetener.

"We tried to make that deal work in every other way possible but they obviously said he had to be in it," Bowman said of including Hinostroza.

That's how important it was to free up even more cap space. By trading Hossa's contract in a nine-piece trade with the Arizona Coyotes, it created more options for the Blackhawks and financial flexibility going forward.

"It was a difficult trade from a sentimental perspective, because we'd love to not have to do that," Bowman said. "But on the practical matter, it was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here. It necessitated us trying to make the move that we did make. You don't know when those opportunities are going to come to try and make that type of a move. ... When this presented itself, we talked it through and got to the point where we thought it was something we had to take advantage of."

The problem for the short term is, it's mid-July and the big-name free agents are off the market. There's not much the Blackhawks can do to improve their roster externally unless they make a trade, which would require dipping into the pipeline.

And it's unfair to put a grade on the Hossa trade as a whole without seeing how they utilize that extra cap space. Could that be before the 2018-19 season starts?

"It's an option if we can find the right player or the right situation," Bowman said. "We certainly have more options now than we did before. I wouldn't say we have to do something. Having cap space is an asset in and of itself, so things will come along maybe in the summer or maybe in the beginning part of the year where teams have a couple players that make their team unexpectedly and that makes some other players more expendable. In the past we probably haven't really been a good match for those types of situations because we didn't have the cap room at that time, so now we're going to be in the mix for those types of things.

"Whether we use it right away or whether we use it during the season, I think the nice thing is we have the flexibility now going in to the coming years where we're going to need cap room, all that and more, to sign the young players."

It doesn't sound like there's much urgency to pull something off between now and when training camp rolls around in September. At least for now.

That doesn't mean there won't be once the market picks back up again. 

"Each year teams have surprises, good and bad, in camp," Bowman said. "Our team’s the same way. You have ideas on how your lines are going to look or how your players are going to be ready. Sometimes guys surprise you in a good way, sometimes it’s not what you think. There’ll be some adjustments around the league, but probably not a lot of activity.

"If you look back the last couple of seasons, late July and August are quieter as far as transactions. But there are some arbitration cases coming up around the league; those may get settled ahead of time. But if they do go to arbitration, if the number's not the way the team likes it, they may look to do something. There’s the possibility of moves, but probably closer to training camp is more when changes may happen."