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Blackhawks prospect Teravainen set for NHL debut

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The wait is nearly over.

After spending a few days getting adjusted to his new surroundings, highly touted 19-year old Finnish forward Teuvo Teravainen will make his NHL debut Tuesday night for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Teravainen will line up at center when Chicago hosts the Dallas Stars at United Center, and he's as fired up about it as Blackhawks fans are.

"I've always been waiting and waiting for this opportunity," Teravainen said. "I don't know if I'm that nervous, but it's a big night coming and a win is all that matters. So I'll do the best I can. It's been [getting to know] the guys around here and being able to practice the last couple days. No jet lag anymore, so I'm ready to go."

The Blackhawks mixed up their line combinations during rushes at the morning skate, but Teravainen appeared to be skating primarily on the second line between left wing Brandon Saad and right wing Ben Smith.

After playing left wing most of last season in Finland, Teravainen played center this season in Liiga for Jokerit. Reports were good about his switch to the middle of the ice and the Blackhawks are eager to see if it translates to the NHL game.

Chicago has been searching for a long-term answer at center on its second line for several years, so the hope is Teravainen becomes the solution. Highly skilled wing Patrick Kane usually mans the right side of that unit, but he's out for the rest of the regular season with a lower-body injury.

Some have nicknamed Teravainen "The Finnish Kane," based on his playmaking ability and similar build (5-foot-11, 169 pounds), so it's not hard to envision a dynamic duo not too far away.

"We're happy to have him join our team and we look forward to seeing him play," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's got some ability. He's got some skills and he's got some speed. We'll play him at center and see how it works, but we're excited to have a good look at him here and give him an opportunity to play."

The Blackhawks are three points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche for second place in the Central Division and trail the St. Louis Blues by six points for the top spot. Every point is critical with 10 games left, but Quenneville wants to be careful not to put too much pressure on Teravainen.

"We don't want to put the weight of the world on his shoulders knowing that he's a young kid and at this time of year it's an important two points for both teams," Quenneville said. "We're looking forward to seeing him play, but we don't expect him to carry our team on his shoulders. Let's go out and play and at the same time watch what he can do."

Teravainen, who will wear No. 86, had 44 points in 49 games with Jokerit (nine goals and 35 assists), ranking seventh in Liiga in points and second in assists. He also led Finland to the gold medal as captain at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship with 15 points (two goals and 13 assists) in seven games.

The Blackhawks, who selected Teravainen with the 18th pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, aren't expecting those kind of heroics just yet. They know the new guy can play at a high level, but the trick is just allowing him to do it.

"He's a skilled player," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "Let him play his game. For anyone, I don't care how skilled you are, there's always going to be some nerves when you play your first game, especially with the excitement surrounding him coming in here at this point of the season. Just let him play his game and don't fill his head up with too many things. He'll learn as he goes. I don't think there's too much to be worried about with a player of his caliber."

Quenneville said he spoke with Teravainen after the skate about staying within his own abilities, and it sounds like the message got through.

"I'll just try to play with my strengths and just play offense and some good defense, as well," Teravainen said. "[I'll] just play hard and play simple. That's the key."

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