by Jackson Walsh and Ed Neely
The last three games have been a humbling time for the Nashville Predators after dropping the last three games. With seven games remaining and the Preds in the midst of a mini slump, the Smashville faithful are set to get a jolt of excitement in the form of Eli Tolvanan, the Predators’ first round pick from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Tolvanen was projected to go as high as 4th in the draft but eventually fell to 30th, but this snub has worked out to the Predators’ benefit. Tolvanen has been a man on a mission since the draft and has been out to prove 29 other general managers wrong. He decided to spend his first post-draft year in the KHL, playing for his home team Jokerit, rather than taking the more traditional AHL route and he lit it the KHL world on fire. Tolvanen started his time with Jokerit by becoming the youngest player in league history to record a hat trick and he did it in his first game. He recorded the the most points in single season by an 18 year old player in KHL history by tallying 36 points (19 goals and 17 assists) and then added an additional 6 goals and an assist in the playoffs for a total of 43 points in his first professional year. He was a 6 time rookie of the week, 2 time rookie of the month and received the most votes of any player in the KHL All-Star ballot. Not bad for a kid that can’t rent a car or buy a beer in Nashville.
Tolvanen’s KHL season came into an end after one of the wildest hockey games in the league’s history, where his Jokerit prevailed over CSKA in the 5th overtime period which, at more than 142 minutes, was the longest game in KHL history. His Jokerit team was finally eliminated by CSKA (Moscow) in game 6 giving him the opening to join the Nashville Predators for the push to the NHL playoffs.
Tolvanen could not join the Predators at a better time, since the Preds, as deep as their roster is, have had a few injuries late in this season, but how much ice time Eeli will see depends on where he best fits into the Nashville lineup. The Preds’ first two lines are are rather stacked. The JoFa line (Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson) is the most productive line on the team with 161 combined points between them (62 goals and 99 assists) which is 25 percent of the entire point production for this team. The Fiala, Turris and Smith line (man they really need a catchy nickname) has contributed another 126 points (55 goals and 71 assists). Both of the top two lines are fast and a mix of a gifted playmaker at center with talented and speedy wings who are capable of scoring from anywhere on the ice. This leaves two prospective lines for Tolvanen to fit in right away.
Since the 4th line, which usually consists of Austin Watson, Mike Fisher/Colton Sissons and Miikka Salomaki, is known to be the shutdown line and is made up of guys who are very adept at doling out physicality, I think that line is also, with the exception of Salomaki, relatively set. That leaves Tolvanen likely to slot in on the third line, but who sits when he plays? You will either have to sit Ryan Hartman or Scott Hartnell and I think it will be Scott Hartnell, who, like Tolvanen, is a left shooting left wing, that is moved off the 3rd line. Hartman has 11 goals and 20 assists on the season and Hartnell has 13 goals and 10 assists. Both Hartman and Hartnell are gritty players who love to agitate opposing goalies and work to get under the skin of opposing skaters, but Hartnell is much slower than both Hartman and Tolvanen. That line is currently centered by Nick Bonino, who is turning out to be a defensively responsible player who is also a talented playmaker. I am sure Bonino would love to have two speedsters who can shoot the puck on his line and they could always bump Salomaki off the 4th line in favor of Hartnell.
Watch some of the highlights of Eeli Tolvanen in the KHL. He has proven himself to be a fast skater with a deceptive release. While he is most prolific from the right , he knows how to put pucks in the net from anywhere in the zone and can gather in a moving puck and shoots well in traffic. Over the course of this KHL season, Tolvanen has also become more skilled on the forecheck and backcheck as well, so there is less of a concern about defensive liabilities that generally come with a young player.
The bottom line is that there is still a bit of time for the coaching staff to evaluate this young man and determine if he is ready for inclusion into the lineup and if he will be ready to step aboard the moving Predators train on its way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We are excited for the prospect of yet another gifted player and trust Poile and Laviolette to make the right call. Buckle up folks! Its goint to be a fun ride!
UPDATE: 0630 CDT – Per Finnish reporter, Pekka Jalonen, Eeli Tolvanen signed his 3 year Entry Level Contract today. It has the same terms as McDavid, Eichel, Matthews and Hischier and also include a Euro clause. This means that if he is not playing in the NHL, he can go back to Europe on loan rather than having to play in the AHL.