Carolina Hurricanes winger Teuvo Teravainen recently was asked what one word he’d use to describe last season.
“Different,” the forward said.
Different, for sure. In Teravainen’s case, other words might be: Challenging, frustrating, disjointed and, in the end, disappointing. It was all of that.
Teravainen first had COVID-19. That was different. The virus kept him out of three early-season games and in quarantine until he was ruled fit to return.
Then, there was a concussion. Teravainen was hammered along the boards during a Feb. 19 game against the Chicago Blackhawks, missing the next seven games and 32 of the next 33.
“The COVID stuff, then I got injured and everything, made it a pretty weird year,” Teravainen told the News & Observer after an informal on-ice workout at Wake Competition Center. “You learn something every year as you get a little older and more experienced. I had to go through some tougher times but I think it just makes me stronger this year.
“It’s all in the past now. I’m excited about this season. New guys on the team, fans back in the building ... I’m excited about it.”
Teravainen, who turned 27 on Sept. 11, is among the Canes’ most versatile guys. His quick hands and offensive instincts are elite and often on full display when playing with his hockey alter ego on the ice, center Sebastian Aho. He’s alert defensively, often in the right spots to rub out mistakes, and effective on special teams.
The Canes won the Central Division during the abbreviated 2020-21 season. But they missed No. 86 when he was out.
Canes captain Jordan Staal was the first Carolina player to have COVID-19 last season. He also has had his share of concussion issues in his career and he’s empathetic to what Teravainen experienced.
“It was hard to watch,” Staal said. “I know the feeling of just not feeling good every other day and getting frustrated with that and just kind of sitting and waiting. Sometimes, it lasts longer than you’d like it and it starts getting in your head.
“For him to do that, as a single guy, during COVID, in North America with no family, I can imagine it was a tough, tough year. It’s great to see him smile and back feeling healthy. I think everybody is going to be pleasantly surprised with the game he’s going to bring this year.”
Canes fans would like to see Teravainen back on a line with Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. But Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour likely has been tinkering with potential lines, factoring in the unexpected newcomer to Carolina: Forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who switched teams when the Montreal Canadiens failed to match an offer sheet given to him by the Canes.
“You don’t see that happen much in this league,” Teravainen said.
Teravainen wants to get back on the ice. He played just 21 regular-season games in 2020-21 and then 11 in the Stanley Cup playoffs as the Canes were ousted in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2021 Cup champions.
The Canes will open preseason training camp this week at PNC Arena with a new look, and not just with Kotkaniemi. There will be new faces sprinkled throughout the lineup, starting in net with goalies Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta and on the back end with defensemen Ian Cole, Tony DeAngelo and Ethan Bear.
It was a lot of turnover for a team that was 36-12-8 last season and whose 80 points were third-best in the NHL. Some of the departed players priced themselves out — defenseman Dougie Hamilton signed a seven-year, $63 million free-agent deal with New Jersey — and the Canes had others leave through a trade (Warren Foegele) or the expansion draft to the Seattle Kraken (Morgan Geekie).
The informal skates at the Canes practice facility this month have caused a lot of roster-searching by onlookers to match names and numbers. Some numbers are fixtures — No. 86, to name one. Then there are Nos. 28, 77, 82 and 18 — Cole, DeAngelo, Kotkaniemi and Derek Stepan.
Teravainen sees no problem with the extent of the makeover. The Canes, who open the 2021-22 season Oct. 14 against the New York Islanders at PNC Arena, will be after a fourth straight playoff appearance.
“It’s looking good and hopefully we can put it together and I’m sure Roddy will be really good at that,” Teravainen said. “The playoffs are a different world and you’ve got to be at your best against the best teams. We were pretty close, I think, but still it’s those little things you need to be better at to win the championship.
“I’m sure we’re learning from the losses and the mistakes we make in those tight games. Against Tampa (Bay), we took a little too many penalties at tough times and their skill will take over when they get too many chances on the power play. But Roddy and the coaching staff will teach us to be better this year.”