Teuvo Teravainen’s stock for the 2012 NHL Draft has risen faster than he can skate a lap around an international-sized ice rink. And if we are to believe what scouts are saying about the latter, that’s faster than most of the prospects available in this year’s crop of future hockey stars.
The NHL’s annual entry draft is being held this Friday, June 22nd – 23rd in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Some of the available players’ names have been in the average hockey fan’s lexicon for over a year now, including those of projected first-overall pick Nail Yakupov or of young Canadian defenseman, Ryan Murray. While amateur scouting isn’t an exact science, these players were identified early on as initial favourites to become the cream of the 2012 draft crop. After solid seasons respectively, Yakupov and Murray have done nothing to lose their excellent reputations, nor their places at the top of most mock drafts and top prospect lists.
Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts is facing an opposite scenario. A consensus top five choice just a few months ago, he is now consistently left out of the top 10 of most pre-draft rankings. A recent revelation that Grigorenko unknowingly battled mononucleosis for a large part of the season might indeed partly explain his drop. But whatever the reason, every year sees its share of draft surprises and disappointments.
Then we have the example of Teuvo Teravainen, the 17-year old from Helsinki who played the past season for Jokerit in Finland’s top league, the SM-Liiga. There are rumblings that the young centre might go in the top 10, perhaps even in the top five of the NHL’s draft on Friday. What makes his story significant is that before 2012 came around, most scouts, let alone fans, could barely say his name (pronounced along the lines of “Tay-Vo Tare-a-vye-nen”). Most of this is due to the fact they didn’t know who he was. After starting the season strong for Jokerit’s junior team, Teravainen got a phone call from the top club that most players don’t get until they are a few years older.
“In the big team there were injuries, so I got the chance to play. Then I didn’t play any more junior games at all,” says Teravainen, using good English, tinged with the charming accent typical of his countrymen. “First, I played a small role on the third and fourth lines. Then after Christmas I started to play second and first lines, and also on the power play. I played a bigger role…it was very cool, I was very happy with my season and I felt like I improved my game very much.”
“I was a little nervous (at first), I wasn’t myself in the game. I didn’t get the puck as much, against bigger and stronger guys…but after maybe 10 games, (I started) playing with my strengths, playing offensively, and I started feeling more comfortable.”
Comfortable is one way to put it. Winning the Jarmo Wasama Trophy as the SM-Liiga’s top rookie is another. That’s what Teravainen did, and is certainly part of the reason why he has shot up pre-draft rankings and into the general consciousness of NHL fans. He also helped his cause by dominating the U-18 Five Nations tournament in February with six goals and two assists in three games played. Other reasons for his rapid rise include an already big-league shot, speed that may make him the fastest skater in the draft and hockey sense and creativity that simply cannot be taught.
So why was Teravainen virtually disregarded by scouts and fans before his 2012 explosion up the rankings? For the answer, you don’t have to look very far. Or very high. As is often the case in the NHL, size, or lack thereof appears to be the main obstacle standing in the way of scouts freely proclaiming him as one of the outright best players of the draft. Some online reports have him listed at 5’9, 165 lbs, while other more recent ones have him closer to 5’11, 185 lbs. Whatever Teravainen ends up measuring when his body fills out, his physical size is without a doubt precluded by his talent, and perhaps more importantly, an innate motivation that has driven him to the edge of achieving his hockey dream, playing in the NHL.
“I realized one or two years ago that I’m going to have to do a lot of work off and on the ice to make the NHL someday,” says the humble Finn, who will spend the summer training with Jokerit in his home country before presumably coming to North America in September for his first NHL training camp. “I know I have a chance if I do very much work in the gym and on the ice. It takes very much work.”
This week is the first time Teravainen has ever set foot in the U.S. However, his hockey travels have brought him to Canada before, a country known for its sometimes overly-exuberant love of the game. His first experience in North America came as a 12-year-old playing in the Bell Capital Cup, an international youth hockey tournament held annually in Ottawa. Players from abroad tend to live with billet families rather than stay in hotels in order to enhance the hockey and cultural experience. For two weeks, Teravainen and another team mate, Joni Viberg, were lodged by Kerry Tilden, an Ottawa resident whose son was also playing in the tournament. She has kept in touch with the Teravainen family since then. Among memories of the boys playing mini-sticks and throwing paper airplanes with messages written in them across the hall to each other, Tilden remembers a shy and reserved, yet very determined Teuvo; “Between being away from his parents and not speaking much English, he was quiet.” But that reservation would quickly vanish when he stepped onto the ice. “Even back then, he played…with an unconscious skill, if that makes sense. He wasn’t emotional or anything, that didn’t get in his way. He just loved it.”
Tilden’s son, Michael Knowles, 17, played in the same tournament as Teravainen and still remembers the impression he had of the young Finn, even back then: “He played the centre position, so he had to do a bit of everything; skating, passing, communicating… just a phenomenal player. It doesn’t surprise me he is where he is.” Knowles brings up an interesting name when asked who Teravainen most reminds him of in today’s NHL: “A younger, smaller Marian Hossa.”
Teravainen specifically names Patrick Kane and Pavel Datsyuk as his favourite hockey players, but says he never cheered for any one NHL team. That might be for the best because there will be no shortage of teams who will be hoping Teuvo Teravainen is somehow still available when it’s their turn to walk up to the draft podium on Friday evening. And hockey fans, memorize that name. We may be forced to start pronouncing it sooner than anyone thought.