The Nashville Predators probably weren’t expecting to make a steal with their late first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. However, a Finnish winger that was projected to be selected earlier was still on the board and the Predators pounced on Eeli Tolvanen from the Sioux City Musketeers with the 30th pick.
The 18-year-old Vihti, Finland native may be just what the doctor ordered. With the off-season departures of proven players, the Predators are in need of someone who can help put the puck in the back of the net and Tolvanen looks like he can do that. While there may be some concern about his size, he seems to be handling things just fine in the KHL.
High Octane Offense Early On
Said to have the full arsenal of quick release snapshot, a powerful wrist shot and an accurate one-timer on the power play, Tolvanen knew how to get on the scoresheet at a young age. During his time in the Finnish Juniors, he put up an impressive 22 points (13 goals and 9 assists) in eight games, 76 (43 goals and 33 assists) points in 26 games, and 84 points (39 goals and 45 assists) in 41 games.
When he transitioned to the United States Hockey League his goal scoring took a dip compared to his time in the Juniors but he continued to impress with 38 points (17 goals and 21 assists) in his first season with the Sioux City Musketeers. He scored 54 points (30 goals and 24 assists) in his second season, good enough for eighth in the league in total points and first overall in shots (246).
The USHL rewarded Tolvanen for his hard work earning USHL player of the week honors for scoring three goals and an assist in two games. Additionally, at the end of the season, Tolvanen received USHL First-Team honors adding to his impressive résumé that led to his first-round selection by the Predators.
Tolvanen Taking the KHL by Storm
Predators general manager David Poile must have been ecstatic when Tolvanen put on the gold and blue, but he will have to wait to see him on Nashville ice. Rather than join the Predators system immediately, Tolvanen took his talents across the pond and joined Jokerit Helsinki on a one-year contract in the KHL.
They might not have known his name before the season started, but the KHL knows his name now. In his first game with Jokerit, he registered a hattrick becoming the youngest player in the KHL to do so. Then, he did it again. His 14 points and two hattricks in September earned him the title of KHL Rookie of the Month and he isn’t slowing down.
— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) October 1, 2017
Adding four more points in the early days of October, he continues to sit atop Jokerit’s roster in points with 18 (ten goals and eight assists). The next closest player has eleven points and only two goals. The young winger is clearly in a league of his own and has the Nashville media and fans excited to see what he will do next.
Future Impact with the Predators
Nashville is ready for Tolvanen, even if they won’t seem him for some time. The Predators lost some key offensive players such as Mike Fisher and James Neal that helped the team reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. It’s not always easy to replace a player who averaged nearly 40 points over the last four seasons or who has never put up less than 20 goals in his career.
There are young players waiting in the wings to prove that they can be the scorers that Nashville needs to remain a Cup contender, but Tolvanen could be an immediate solution to fill the offensive gap. The Predators have some top-talent wingers in Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg, but the ranks after those two are murky.
The major question is whether or not his success in the KHL will transfer to the NHL as the speed and intensity of the NHL is different. Until Tolvanen’s pace with Jokerit slows, he has shown that he at least deserves a chance to show his worth with the Predators. It’s only a matter of time, though, until the Predators reap the benefits of another player from Finland.
Ben is an Ohio State alum born and raised in south Jersey. Currently calling Nashville home, he has been covering the Nashville Predators since 2014. Initially drawn to hockey as a kid by the FoxTrax puck, he now despises the idea of such a thing.