Should Teuvo Teravainen get more ice time? (Trending Topics)
It's at once easy and difficult to find reasons to criticize Joel Quenneville over the last few years. The management of his roster has been strange to say the least — at times, anyway — but at the same time, you'd have to say it's working.
Chicago is three wins away from a third Stanley Cup in six years, which is an unthinkable number in the forced-parity world of a salary-capped NHL. Under Quenneville, they've already won two Stanley Cups, gone to this Final, and taken trips to two additional Western Conference Finals as well. The only years in which they didn't advance at least that far were following the post-2010 Cup sell-off that saw them trade Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, and others to set themselves back for a couple of years. No one in the league can match that level of success, nor should they probably be able to do so in the first place. This much success is unfathomable.
But again, the roster decisions, some of which have, to be fair, been forced by the team's cap situation (i.e. you can't win all these Cups with all these excellent players and expect to retain them cheaply). Thus the use of just four defensemen, more or less, in the back end of this year's postseason, among other roster decisions that no coach should feasibly have to make. Indeed, the fact that Game 1 of the Cup Final saw one team play its bottom two defensemen a combined 12:23 — 7:22 for David Rundblad, 5:01 for Kyle Cumiskey — and still win is crazy.
Another area of concern, though, has been Quenneville's use of the overwhelming offensive talent of rookie Teuvo Teravainen. Or rather, the underuse of it. Watching Chicago down the stretch and into these playoffs, you got the feeling that Quenneville wasn't really comfortable with the idea of letting a player this young — Teravainen won't even be 21 until September — get legitimate time with the club. Maybe you say his coach is protecting him from situations in which he might not thrive, but a lot of this looks more like risk aversion. That is: You have to ask whether Quenneville is concerned that the rookie will screw up and cost his team the game, and whether that's a well-founded concern in the first place.
The way you can evaluate this is to look at how Teravainen is used by his coach. In the regular season, Chicago gave 12 forwards at least 400 minutes at 5-on-5, and they were more or less exactly who you'd think. Teravainen made that top-12 (that is, what was basically Chicago's most common everyday lineup) by just 35 seconds, which makes sense because he only played 34 games at the NHL level in the regular season. He played another 39 for Rockford in the AHL, where they don't make TOI stats public, but where he finished fifth on the team in points per game and third in shots per game. That he did so as a 20-year-old is impressive.
On some level you have to think that Teravainen really only started to get more time because of the Kane injury and the way that he could, theoretically, contribute to the offense. But Quenneville's use of him even then was protective to say the least:
Limited minutes, soft competition. That's probably how you roll someone into the league for the first time. Makes sense, even in light of the Kane situation. But what's interesting is that there was no progression toward using him more as he proved himself over nearly half a season. Quenneville still has him punching down all the time.
In addition, while you wouldn't expect him to get any time on the PK (and of course he doesn't!), a player with his offensive capabilities also isn't getting a crack on the man advantage. He's only played 29:34 of power play time between the regular season and playoffs, an average of about 38 seconds per game. That number is just 17 seconds in the playoffs, 10th out of the 14 forwards Chicago has used. Now, to be fair, the power play unit can't be easy to break into on a team as deep as this, but you have to think he provides a better option than at least Kris Versteeg (1:05 of PP time per game) or Bryan Bickell (:46).
And this comes despite the fact that Teravainen has certainly shown he can dominate the low-level competition he's faced. In the 47 games he's played between the regular season and playoffs, his numbers are respectable at the least.
A lot of that says that in the early goings, he appeared to push around the competition a lot more simply because the puck was bouncing Chicago's way when he was on the ice. His goaltenders stopped a whopping .963 behind him at 5-on-5 in the regular season, even as the team's on-ice shooting percentage was a dismal 4.95 percent (.951 sv% against). Which goes a long way toward explaining why he's scoring more despite getting less of the puck — but more of the top-notch scoring chances — once the playoffs rolled around.
Those goals and assists per 60 numbers over all 47 games (smoothing out all the percentages a bit, though he's still been pretty lucky) are strong for a 20-year-old regardless of what kind of competition he's facing. Among players with 500 minutes between the regular season and playoffs, that number puts him in the same range as guys like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Paul Stastny, Zemgus Girgensons, Joffrey Lupul, and Valtteri Filppula. You certainly take those comparables, even if Teravainen carried the easiest competition and zone starts of all those guys.
But what I think has been overlooked is that Teravainen continues to not only move the needle in the right direction, but also completely dominate those against whom he's played.
Yes, Quenneville is putting him in a position to succeed, but he's not only succeeding, he's ripping the guts out of his competition. That Game 1 goal was a “signature moment,” so to speak, and maybe that's what finally gets him more ice time, but it's really been a long time coming.
As you can see here, Chicago is getting a lot of chances in high-percentage areas when Teravainen is on the ice, and in a lot of these areas, that's been the case more when he's on the ice than when he's off (ignore the density of the shot rates here, as Chicago is obviously going to attempt more shots without him than with, given that he only played about 400 minutes):
The counterargument to all this is that Teravainen is indeed crushing the competition and generating more attempts from higher-percentage areas, but he might be doing it — along with Antoine Vermette and Patrick Sharp — specifically because of how he's deployed. For players of that talent level (and say what you want about Vermette and Sharp's playoff performances, but these guys not-being in a top-six is bananas).
And indeed, partly because of that usage, Teravainen made almost every guy he played with a better possession player in the regular season as well. Most of these jumps outperform what usage adjustments should look like:
I think the obvious answer as to why Teravainen, who's actually in his fourth year as a pro, doesn't get more ice time is that what Quenneville is doing has largely worked. All those positive numbers, all the outscoring, out-chancing, and out-possessing his line has done has not given the coach any reason to shake things up on that end, nor has there been any kind of significant failing above him in the depth chart to give cause for a promotion, even if the play suggests he's ready for it. And it does.
So unless something goes drastically wrong in either case, nothing is going to change, and perhaps it shouldn't. But if nothing else, this run of success for Teravainen shows that, whatever happens in this series, he's ready to make a much bigger impact as a sophomore, and will probably need to do it as Chicago tries to maneuver its way around a flat or even falling salary cap.
Yes, he deserves more ice time. No he's probably not going to get it. And right now it doesn't seem to matter.
Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
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