Can Tolvanen, other young Predators make up for offseason losses?

Can Tolvanen, other young Predators make up for offseason losses?
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In a recent post well-worth your time, PHT’s Adam Gretz wondered if the Nashville Predators can reverse their recent downward trend. When pondering offensive struggles (along with departures of Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund), Gretz posited Nashville possibly signing someone like Anthony Duclair or Mike Hoffman. While those options are interesting, I also wonder if the Predators might find at least partial replacements by promoting from within.

To be more specific, maybe it’s time for the long-awaited Predators ascension of Eeli Tolvanen.

Big gambles haven’t always paid off

Year after year, the Predators took big swings by making trades for outside help. GM David Poile boldly gambled left and right, acquiring the likes of Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris, and Mikael Granlund.

As much as this offseason of losses might leave Predators fans squirming, can you really blame the franchise for sitting back?

Clearly, many of those gambles didn’t pay off. Some results are mixed (Johansen), some were disastrous (Turris), and others still must be determined (Duchene).

Perhaps, to some extent, the Predators fell victim to the fantasy hockey player’s curse of constantly tinkering. Rather than seeing the Tolvanens of the world develop, the Predators instead tried to upgrade with unfamiliar players.

Why Tolvanen may help Predators; why expectations should be grounded

While the economic realities of COVID-19 must have played a role in the Predators’ cost-consciousness, maybe Tolvanen can make a step? (The cupboard is otherwise a touch bare, although Luke Kunin could also help as another young talent, and Philip Tomasino is moderately intriguing.)

Ideally, Tolvanen’s development trend would be a steady upward line. Instead, it’s been more of a staccato rhythm, a stuttering of ups and downs.

Shortly after the Predators selected Tolvanen with the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, the sniping winger looked like a steal. Unfortunately, his game hasn’t translated to the North American ice sheet. Or maybe those early impressions led to over-hyped expectations?

So far, Tolvanen authored two 30+ point AHL seasons (35 points in 58 games in 2018-19, and 36 in 63 GP last season). Early on this season, Tolvanen isn’t exactly tearing up the KHL, either (two goals, 8 points in 14 GP).

That’s … all quite troubling.

But Tolvanen possesses something that’s still all-too-rare for the Predators: a lethal shot.

For an often-dreadful Predators power play, that could be a godsend. Crucially, though, Tolvanen will need to toe the line in other areas to get those fruitful opportunities.

With that in mind, it’s a promising sign that his AHL coach is talking up Tolvanen’s all-around play.
“If you watch him play at the end of our season last year, I think you’ll see a real growth in all areas of his game,” Milwaukee Admirals coach Karl Taylor said, via the Athletic’s Adam Vingan (sub required). “He was on the penalty kill. He was blocking shots for us. He was scoring. He was basically doing everything for our team that we could ask. You could tell maturity-wise, how he was carrying himself, that it was looking like it was time for him to get the opportunity that we’re perceiving that he’s going to get.”

Again, Tolvanen ranks as the Predators’ most interesting potential glow-up. But someone like Tomasino could make significant strides in 2020-21, too.

Predators face some soul-searching

Circling back to one of Gretz’s points, the Predators’ most likely way of replacing offense would be to add.

Honestly, the most enticing idea might be to roll with a bold offer sheet for the likes of Mathew Barzal, Anthony Cirelli, or even Mikhail Sergachev. (Vingan took a look at that idea recently for The Athletic.) After all, you want to get the most out of Roman Josi (already 30) and Ryan Ellis (turns 30 on Jan. 3), right?

But it’s fair to stick with the plan of doing nothing for two key reasons.

1. Frankly, the Predators don’t really know that they’re surefire contenders.

No doubt about it, Nashville took a step back in 2020-21. Duchene didn’t put the Predators over the top. Instead, the team stagnated.

It’s one thing to go for broke when you think you can win a Stanley Cup. You can’t push all of your chips to the center of the table if you have a mediocre hand, though.

(Poile doesn’t strike me as the greatest bluffer, at least.)

2. Stop using a Band-Aid

By acquiring Duchene, the Predators continued their revolving door approach. They moved on from the P.K. Subban era. Turris didn’t pan out, and Granlund didn’t boost them like they wanted to.

But maybe they weren’t putting together the right recipes with their ingredients? It’s a question worth examining after they fired Peter Laviolette.

For all that’s gone right for Nashville, it’s fair to wonder if their systems have always been optimized. Yes, you want to empower defensemen like Josi and Ellis. Yet, on the power play, is it really wisest to lean so heavily on point shots? This, again, is where Tolvanen can help, even if his all-around impact is modest.

That all comes down to Hynes getting more out of what’s now a lesser supporting cast. And that’s another area where the Predators prompt concern.

Yes, the Devils featured roster flaws. Considering their resounding lack of success, it’s baffling that Nashville almost broke a leg rushing to bring in Hynes. If the raw win-loss results weren’t troubling enough, Hynes’ isolated impact at Hockey Viz doesn’t inspire confidence, either.

John Hynes Hockey Viz Tolvanen Predators
Broadly speaking, offense dies on both ends of the ice with Hynes. via Hockey Viz

Are the Predators better off being bad this season?

Considering all of the turmoil, maybe the Predators are better off essentially “hibernating” in 2020-21?

Ponder this scenario. Nashville takes a setback year, but gets a high-end pick out of it. Take a look at the Predators’ draft history, and you’ll see how rarely they’ve selected early first-rounders. They’ve never had a first overall pick.

Smart organizations make the most out of their situations. Still, over time, you can survive, but maybe not thrive without those premium picks. Perhaps the 2021 NHL Draft can serve as that moment when the Predators finally get some draft lottery love?

The dream is just that everything pans out in 2020-21. It’s certainly possible, with a still-new coach, especially since Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros could both enjoy bounce-back years. And maybe Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen can use negative feedback to fuel strong work.

But if the Predators take a step back, maybe it can just be a momentary stumble before a few more big pushes?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.


    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”


    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.