What do Martin Brodeur, Daniel Alfredsson and Tyler Myers all have in common? They each have the Calder Trophy sitting at home in their trophy case. The Calder Trophy is awarded to the player who is selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.
One of the many questions surrounding the Nashville Predators is will Eeli Tolvanen’s breakout season lead him to become a finalist for the Calder Trophy. It would be the first time in franchise history that a player would be nominated for the award. There are a ton of potential candidates this season, including Kirill Kaprizov, Tim Stutzle and Ty Smith. Over the past few weeks, Tolvanen has been solidifying a foundation that would argue he belongs in the Calder conversation.
Prominent Presence on Power Play
Tolvanen has been a bright spot on a very dull Predator’s power play. As it stands he has 10 power-play points, only Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi have more. He leads his team with five power-play goals, which is more than Patrice Bergeron and Alex Ovechkin.
Back on Jan. 22, 2021, my colleague Dwayne Dunham wrote an article talking about Nashville’s struggling power play. In February, John Hynes began using Tolvanen on the power play and he made an almost instant impact. During the month of January, the Predator’s power play ranked 25th in the league — it has improved and now ranks 16th in the league. Tolvanen is a huge reason behind the success, his 10 power-play points are the most among all NHL rookies.
Promoted to the Top Line
Tolvanen made his NHL debut in March of 2018 at 18 years old. He registered one hit and had 13:34 time on ice including 1:17 on the power play. He made two more appearances that season and in those three games did not register a point.
Jump ahead to this season, and he seems to have not only secured a regular spot in the lineup, he has been playing on the top line with Johansen as his center man. Johansen spoke about linemate and said, “He’s a phenomenal talent. Biggest thing that impressed me is just his work ethic and his compete on the puck and all the little things that you don’t notice on scoresheets. He’s really committed to doing that as best as he can. It’s been fun to watch him. I’ve really enjoyed seeing him grow.” (from How the Predators prospect influx is giving a disappointing season new purpose, The Athletic, March 22, 2021)
It is no secret that the Predators have faced a ton of injuries during this shortened season. Viktor Arvidsson and Colton Sissons are the only two players that have played in every game this season, but as they say, in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. It is undisputed that Tolvanen has made the most of his 29 appearances this season.
A Complete Hockey Player
Like Johansen said, it is all about the little things that a player does on the ice. Tolvanen does not just lead his team in power-play points. In 29 games, he has registered 54 hits, which is tied for the team’s lead along with Mark Borowiecki, Yakov Trenin and Mathieu Olivier. The 5-foot-10 winger plays a physical game, and to my surprise, has only turned the puck over twice this season.
Among all rookie skaters, he is sixth in points, third in goals, and 10th in assists. It is worth noting that he has achieved this playing in fewer games than his rookie competition. Tolvanen’s development and transition into the NHL has been slow, but is paying off dividends now when the Predators need him most.
During an interview with Adam Vingan of The Athletic, Hynes said, “Sometimes young guys can feel like they want to bypass steps just to be in the NHL, but when you’re going to be in the NHL, you want to be able to contribute. You want to be ready to play. He can play night in and night out, and he plays an important role on our team. He plays big power play minutes because he is ready. If he wasn’t ready, he wouldn’t be able to play (in) the situations he ‘s in. And now he’s having success. It’s a big credit to Eeli, his mindset, who he is a a person and his character and desire to do things the right way.” (from Eeli Tolvanen’s patience is paying off for the Predators: ‘He’s a great lesson”, The Athletic, April 1, 2021)
For all of these above reasons, I can argue Tolvanen deserves to be a finalist for the Calder Trophy. He has been a difference maker for the Predators all season long. He is third on the team with goals (three of those have been game winners), which is tied for the team lead. The young forward has worked himself into a top-6 role and at the ripe age of 21, the Predators can only expect better from the Finnish player.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.