Teravainen up; Versteeg out

20131211_151215Yesterday, the Blackhawks recalled their top prospect Teuvo Teravainen who has spent all year down in the AHL with the Rockford Ice Hogs. Teravainen is the Hawks’ top prospect and one of the more highly regarded prospects in the game. This will be his second stint in the NHL, as he was called up near the end of last season and played in three games. The reason for his call-up is due to the injury that Kris Versteeg suffered in the Winter Classic against the Capitals. Versteeg took a shot to his hand, left the game, and never returned. He is expected to miss about a month.

Versteeg’s absence from the lineup will be felt, as he is having a very solid season thus far with 9 goals and 18 assists in 34 games played. His 27 points rank third on the team. Ever since Joel Quenneville united Versteeg, Richards, and Kane on the Hawks’ second line, that trio has been arguably the team’s best.

With Versteeg now out, someone will need to fill the void left on the second line. As of right now, it appears that someone will be Patrick Sharp (let’s just take a second to think about what a luxury it is to promote PATRICK SHARP to the second line…). This “new” second line has all kinds of potential to remain the team’s best line, as all three players on it are highly skilled, veteran players.

So what about Teuvo? If today’s practice is any indicator, he’ll be centering the fourth line in between Carcillo/Nordstrom and Smith. Not exactly the role that most fans would like to see him in, but it’s probably the smart decision at this point. You don’t want to put the kid into an important role that puts him under pressure to succeed. Placing him on the fourth line will limit his minutes, but it will also allow him to somewhat ease his way back into the NHL game. If he does well there, expect to see him jump up to the third line with Kruger going back down to the fourth.

Right now really might be the best time possible for Teravainen to come back up to the Blackhawks. They currently sit near the top of the league in the standings, meaning they won’t be fighting for a playoff spot or desirable playoff position like they were the last time Teuvo was up. There isn’t much pressure on the Blackhawks to win every game right now, meaning less pressure on each individual player to play great every single night. Also, we’re entering what many consider the “dog days” of the season. This time of year, January-February, can become a drag for some teams, especially the good ones. With Teravainen coming up now, he’ll bring some excitement to the team, which they may or may not need at this point. Instead of looking at the next couple months as a boring, “let’s just get to April” part of the season, Blackhawks players might see this as the beginning of an era with Teuvo, who has all kinds of potential to be a lethal top six forward on this team in the future.

I think a lot of people thought that the next time Teravainen got called up after being sent down last year, he’d stay up for good. Sort of like the Kris Bryant situation with the Cubs. With Teuvo coming up as the result of an injury to a Blackhawk player, his “staying up for good” might not be the case. That is unless he performs well enough to convince the coaching staff and management to keep him in the NHL. If that happens, then the Blackhawks will have added yet another highly skilled, potent player to their already loaded lineup. Of course, that would essentially mean someone would have to go from the NHL roster, but that’s a problem that we should all welcome.

Teravainen will be making his season debut with the Blackhawks Sunday night at home against the Stars. Ironically, his debut last year was also at home against the Stars. I’d expect some butterflies early from him, but he seems to be in control of his emotions based on what we saw last year. Hopefully he plays well and gains confidence in his game. If that happens, this could be a late Christmas present to all of us Hawks fans, not to mention the organization.

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