Entering the 2016-17 season as the Carolina Hurricanes’ most noteworthy forward additions, Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho each received their fair share of hype.
Aho, being a rookie, attracted perhaps slightly more, but that was only because Teravainen was seen as a sure-fire contributor, having already proven himself with the Blackhawks in 2015-16 and ready to explode with more playing time in Carolina.
In its preseason fantasy forecasts, ESPN projected Teravainen — whom it labeled a “budding wunderkind” — to finish fifth on the team in points, behind just Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Justin Faulk and Jordan Staal.
For a second-year player like Teravainen — often prone to suffering from the infamous “sophomore slump,” especially after switching from two so radically different teams as Chicago and Carolina — those were expectations that were surely daunting.
But with the help of a smooth transition period and instant chemistry with his partner-in-hype, Aho, the 22-year-old Finn now appears on track to validate those projections.
Asked Monday where Teravainen currently fits into a Hurricanes’ lineup disrupted by the uncertain injury statuses of Staal and Elias Lindholm, coach Bill Peters gave a ringing endorsement of his young star’s versatility: “I like him everywhere.”
“I think he’s an excellent player, very smart player, getting comfortable with our system and with our organization,” Peters added. “No matter where we play him now, he’s very highly effective.”
Teravainen has been an influential possession creator and opportunity generator with every line he’s been frequently slotted into, whether it be with Stempniak and Aho (61.3 shot-attempt-for percentage), with Staal and Aho (65.5 percent) or with Lindholm and Aho (58.7 percent). Teravainen has also been an incredibly consistent player in that category, as a five-game rolling average of his shot attempt differential this season has never even once dipped into the negatives.
The common factor in each of those combinations, however, is certainly Aho, whose nifty puckhandling and agile skating have proven a perfect complement to Teravainen’s more direct, north-south offensive style.
The two seem to have an innate connection that allows them to work together, whether tangibly (with, say, a pass to each other) or more quietly (coordinating defensive coverage), at all times.
The Anaheim game may have been their greatest duo masterpiece to date, with Teravainen and Aho combining for three goals and repeatedly creating scoring chances. But even in other games in which they didn’t chalk up anything onto the box score, the two have been among the most reliable and dangerous Hurricanes playmakers.
Break the Vancouver Slump
Teravainen was one of three Hurricanes to score in the last meeting with the Canucks, when Carolina blew a 3-0 lead on Oct. 16 to lose their second of many heartbreakers so far this autumn.
The Hurricanes will get a rematch with their cross-conference foe Tuesday, seeking to end a seven-game losing streak against Vancouver dating back to Dec. 2011. Recently, it’s been Canucks youngster Bo Horvat singlehandedly keeping that streak alive, scoring two game-winners in two games against Carolina last year.
If the Hurricanes have any counterpart to Horvat, it may well be Teravainen, who wasn’t around to experience the bitterness of those two narrow defeats in 2015-16. Instead, he was busy scoring third-period goals against the Canucks, such as in a back-and-forth 3-2 Blackhawks win on March 27.
With No. 86 having had 28 games now to settle into Bill Peters’ system, he has the opportunity to emerge as a true star on a still scoring-starved Hurricanes roster. His current prorated scoring rate is 38 points; if he can push that pace to 45 or 50 points, it could make a big difference for the team’s playoff hopes and help establish Teravainen as the budding first-liner he was proclaimed over the summer to be.
In the meantime, helping the Hurricanes finally snap the Canucks’ hex could be an encouraging step towards that end goal.