Jokerit’s quest for the KHL’s Gagarin Cup ended on Saturday, which opened the door for top prospect Eeli Tolvanen to join the Nashville Predators for their Stanley Cup run.
The 18-year-old winger, a 2017 first-round pick, saw his contract with the team mutually terminated on Monday thanks to a clause allowing for an opt-out. He’ll fly to Music City on Wednesday to sign his entry-level deal.
Tolvanen had a fantastic rookie season in the KHL scoring 19 goals and recording 46 points in 49 games. Those numbers were the best of any U-19 player in league history. He also produced in the postseason, scoring six times in 11 games for Jokerit. He also was named KHL Rookie of the Month twice, earned Rookie of the Week honors six times and was the youngest player to record a hat trick in KHL history. Want more? Representing Finland at the World Junior Championship, he recorded six points in five games and then nine points in five games at the Olympics in PyeongChang.
So, yeah, you can see why the Predators have been excited at the prospect of adding him this season.
“I’m getting enthusiastic about Nashville,” Tolvanen said (translated) via Iltalehti. “This has been my dream ever since. Now it’s really close. A year ago I did not think I was playing at KHL and then I went to NHL.”
Tolvanen isn’t a stranger to the smaller sheets (or highlight-reel goals). Before joining Jokerit, he played two seasons in the USHL with the Sioux City Musketeers where he led the team in goals both seasons and put up 92 points in 101 games. So while there might be an adjustment period as he plays the final games of the Predators’ regular season, the size of the rink shouldn’t be an issue.
Predators general manager David Poile added Ryan Hartman before last month’s NHL trade deadline. Mike Fisher also came out of a short retirement to re-join the team. Now with Tolvanen’s addition, Nashville’s depth up front gets even better, especially for a team with eyes on playing hockey in June once again.
Poile has said he can see Tolvanen in the Predators’ top-six, which has featured Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Kevin Fiala and Craig Smith on the wings. Head coach Peter Laviolette should have plenty of time to find the right fit for him as he tweaks the lines ahead of the start of the postseason.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
In other top NHL prospect entry-level signing news, Jordan Greenway (Boston University, U.S. Olympic team) joins the Minnesota Wild, while Adam Gaudette (Northeastern University) inks his deal with the Vancouver Canucks. Casey Mittelstadt (University of Minnesota) agreed to his ELC with the Buffalo Sabres and will join them later this week.
An interesting note, as TSN’s Bob McKenzie pointed out, is that Mittelstadt has a late birthday (November), which means signing his contract with the Sabres burns the first year of his ELC. That doesn’t count as a year of pro, however, which is important to the team as he will be exempt from any Seattle expansion draft in 2020, should it happen. When his deal expires, he won’t be a full restricted free agent, as well, meaning he won’t be eligible for offer sheets or possess arbitration rights.