Why Carolina Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen has a lot riding on the 2023-24 season

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Teuvo Teravainen of the Carolina Hurricanes could be entering the most important year of his hockey career.

The Finnish forward agrees with that. He’s willing to say it.

“It’s a big year, for sure. For me, for the team,” Teravainen said Friday.

He’s 29 now. He’s entering the final year of his contract. He feels the urgency, professionally and financially.

“I try not to think about it too much,” he said. “I just try to be a good player, a good teammate. Just be my best and find my game a little bit better again.

“I feel pretty confident about myself right now. I’m ready to go again.”

Asked to describe the contract negotiations, Teravainen deemed the situation “nothing too much.”

That also applies to defensemen Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei, who both will be in the last year of their contracts before becoming unrestricted free agents. “Quiet” appears to be the operative word when referring to contract talks.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Teravainen said.

If Teravainen needs a reminder of how last season went, and how quickly things can change, he only has to flex his left thumb. It’s still a little stiff, still has the pin and plates inserted in April.

Teravainen had a slow start to the 2022-23 season — no goals, seven assists in the first 13 games — before an upper-body injury Nov. 19 against the Edmonton Oilers. Placed on injured reserve, he returned in early December, but had trouble getting back up to speed and being consistently productive.

After finishing the regular season with 12 goals and 37 points, he appeared ready when the Stanley Cup playoffs began.

Then, another setback.

In Game 2 of the first-round series against the New York Islanders, Teravainen was slashed on left hand — Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour called it a “tomahawk chop’ — by the Isles’ Jean-Gabriel Pageau. He was quickly scheduled for surgery.

No one knew if Teravainen could return in the playoffs, but he did. His left thumb still red and puffy, he was back in the lineup for the Eastern Conference final series against the Florida Panthers and had one point — a goal in Game 4 — as the Canes’ playoff run ended.

Teravainen said he spent much of the summer rehabbing his hand, laughing and saying, “It meant less golf.” He’s also part of the ownership team of Jokerit, the hockey team in his native Helsinki that’s in Mestis, a rung below the Finnish Liiga..

“I’m not too involved yet because I have my own hockey career, but that has been nice to be a part of,” he said.

As for the thumb, Teravainen said it “feels pretty good” is getting better, adding, “I don’t think it will ever be normal.”

Teravainen often has played on a line with Sebastian Aho in the past, a top-line winger for Brind’Amour and the Canes. Always inclined to be more a playmaker than shooter, he does have a quick release on his shots and can be sneaky good with it.

His passing ability has made him valuable on the power play, and he has teamed with Aho to be an effective penalty killer with his instincts and stick work.

In his seven years with the Canes since being traded from Chicago, Teravainen has scored 20 or more goals three times and had 60 or more points in four seasons. In 2021-22, he had 22 goals and 43 assists for a 65-point season, with a plus-22 rating.

“He’s so crucial, when you look at what he does, as far as the role he plays and the amount of key times he’s on the ice,” Brind’Amour said Friday. “When he’s doing what he does, at a high level, that’s only going to help us.”

In the first few days of training camp, Teravainen has been on Jordan Staal’s line with winger Jordan Martinook. As he’s quick to say, training camp is never his “favorite time” of the year — more of a necessary grind to get prepared for the longer grind.

Those skating drills to end practice? “To be honest, pretty boring,” he said, smiling.

Teravainen’s last contract — five years, $27 million — was signed Jan. 21, 2019, during the season. He’s not ruling out a repeat, but again said he won’t dwell on it once the season begins Oct. 11 against Ottawa.

“I’ll try to play good and not think about it,” he said. “Of course, I want to stay here. I feel like is home here. I’ll just take it day by day.”