Eeli Tolvanen

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Predators’ power play headaches linger into playoffs

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War, war never changes. To Nashville Predators forward Craig Smith, the same can be said for the team’s power play lately.

“I’m frustrated, we’re all frustrated. It pisses me off,” Smith said, according to News Channel 5’s Jonathan Burton. “We’ve been doing the same thing for years; nothing changes.”

The Predators finished the regular season with the worst power play in the NHL, and that problem reared its ugly head during their Game 1 loss to the Dallas Stars, as that unit went 0-for-4. The Stars, meanwhile, went 1-for-3 in snagging a tight 3-2 victory. (Game 2 takes place at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday on CNBC [livestream])

Heading into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Smith and other Predators players remained all-too-aware of these power-play struggles … maybe too aware?

“I think it’s a mindset to go out there,” Smith said heading into Round 1, according to NHL.com’s Robby Stanley. “Sometimes you have to play it like it’s 5-on-5. I think that’s definitely a crucial part of it too, retrieving pucks and getting back and supporting one another, because you’ve got to find the 2-on-1 somewhere. We’ve worked hard at it and watched a lot of video.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Whenever a team’s power play is struggling, I tend to look to three things:

1. Is that team just having bad luck?

It’s just about certain that this plays at least part of the role for the Predators. Still, this bleeds into the next point.

2. Are the wrong players shooting, particularly too many defensemen?

They managed a respectable four shots on goal during those four power plays, although the shooters were a mix of defensemen (P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis) and maybe not the ideal forwards you’d want firing the puck (Brian Boyle and Kyle Turris). After generating 34 goals despite being limited to 58 games played, Viktor Arvidsson didn’t even have a missed shot on the PP.

Too many point shots is one of those issues that seems all too obvious with power plays dealing with deeper-seated issues than a mere cold streak. In Nashville, you’d figure there’s a political element. After all, you want to keep your star defensemen happy. Either way, you’d want Forsberg, Arvidsson, and Ryan Johansen firing more shots.

3. Are the Predators making the right personnel choices?

Identifying the power play as a problem, GM David Poile brought in a big net-front presence in Brian Boyle (who was also sought after for his defensive acumen) and Wayne Simmonds (a player well-known for his resume of power-play prowess, though that’s faded recently).

There have been signs of at least mild improvement by Nashville’s power play in the last month or so, but allow me to get back on my soapbox and wonder if what the Predators’ PP really needs is Eeli Tolvanen.

Even if the young forward can’t earn Peter Laviolette’s trust at even-strength, you could easily fit Tolvanen into a role as a power-play specialist and hide him lower in the order otherwise. The Stars aren’t exactly the league’s deepest team, so Tolvanen’s skill could also create dividends if Laviolette decided to take the very mild risk of inserting the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

In particular, Forsberg and Arvidsson can be threats in these situations, yet for all that the Predators possess, they could really use a/another true sniper whose shot is simply a weapon.

That’s especially true since Ben Bishop has been one of the best goalies in the NHL this season, and considering his enormous frame, it might take next level shooting skills to beat him on some nights. You can quibble with Tolvanen’s all-around game, but few would doubt his shot.

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One way or another, the Predators need to find answers as the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs go along. Maybe they can grind out a Round 1 series win against a generally low-scoring Stars team, but maybe not, as special teams might just move the needle. Beyond Dallas, the Predators would have to really dominate on 5-on-5 to beat the cream of the crop, if they can’t at least scrounge up respectable special teams.

And that might require not “doing the same thing for years.”

Stars-Predators Game 2 from Bridgestone Arena will be Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. ET on CNBC (livestream).

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

Predators bolster roster with signing of KHL standout Eeli Tolvanen

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An already scary-looking Nashville Predators team became a little more frightening on Thursday.

The Preds signed Finnish-born Eeli Tolvanen on a three-year, fully-loaded entry-level contract, a precedent-setting deal according to Sportsnet, who reported that Tolvanen is the first player ever selected outside the top two in the NHL draft to receive full “Schedule A” and “Schedule B” bonuses from the team who selected him.

The Predators took Tolvanen with the 30th pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

“This is a great move, obviously, for today and our future,” general manager David Poile told reporters on Thursday, standing next to Tolvanen. “He comes in at a great spot right now with six games left in the regular season. It gives us an opportunity to give him a look and gives us that depth that we’re going to need in the playoffs.”

Tolvanen put together a historic season playing in his native Finland for Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League, becoming the highest scoring teenager in league history with 36 points in 49 games, surpassing Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s previous record of 32 points in four fewer games. His 19 goals and 17 assists are both KHL records for an 18-year-old.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

“He’s had basically just a normal year,” Poile joked, adding that Tolvanen should have gone a lot earlier in last year’s draft.

On Thursday, Tolvanen was fully aware of the situation he was coming into.

“The playoffs are coming,” he said. “I know they’re a really good team, so it’s easy to jump in, I think, because there’s a lot of good players, and they’re going to push me forward. That’s a good thing for me.”

Tolvanen was a popular figure at the 2018 Winter Olympics, where he had three goals and nine in five games, tied for second-most in the tournament and the second-best total by an under-19 player in Olympic history.

Prior to joining the KHL, Tolvanen played two seasons with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers, recording 47 goals and 92 points in 101 games. He was supposed to head to Boston College in the NCAA but was rejected by the school’s admissions office the day before last year’s draft after he did not meet the school’s standards.

The move for the Predators adds another piece to a puzzle that already looked to be complete.

Nashville entered Thursday’s action as the top team in the Central Division, the Western Conference and the whole of the NHL with 109 points and are arguably the clear favorite to avenge their Stanley Cup loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins last year.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday that Tolvanaen could make his NHL debut on Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres. That matchup probably bodes well for his chances to snipe his first NHL goal, as well.

One thing is for certain: Nashville has one downright scary looking roster.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Eeli Tolvanen is coming as the Predators get even stronger

Jokerit
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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.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Eeli Tolvanen scores highlight-reel goal, continues to excite Predators fans (Video)

KHL
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One of these days Eeli Tolvanen will finally hit the ice with the Nashville Predators. The 2017 first-round pick is currently with Jokerit of the KHL, but since the team is in the middle of the Gagarin Cup playoffs, fans in Music City will have to wait a little longer before he arrives in North America.

Tolvanen gave hockey fans everywhere another taste of his talents on Friday with a beautiful solo effort — his second goal of the game — in overtime to close out Jokerit’s opening round series against Sochi:

The 18-year-old Finnish winger has said it is his intention to sign a contract with the Predators whenever Jokerit’s season is over. General manager David Poile echoed those sentiments recently, according to The Tennessean.

“If we ever get Tolvanen, and he’s good enough to play and it’s this year, that’ll be great,” Poile said. “But in the future, when I look at our depth chart, Tolvanen certainly is going to get every opportunity to play on our top two lines. That’s just another addition that should pan out really good for us.”

Should they advance to the Gagarin Cup Final, it’s possible that Tolvanen won’t arrive until mid-to-late April, which could potentially be late in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs or early in second round. Given what the kid has produced so far at his age, his addition this season could serve as a positive injection into a Predators team that has eyes again on a deep playoff run.

Tolvanen scored 19 goals and recorded 36 points in 49 games for Jokerit this season, the best numbers for a player 19 and younger in KHL history, per Elite Prospects. Representing Finland in the PyeongChang Olympics last month, he finished tied for second in scoring with three goals and nine points as they reached the quarterfinals of the tournament before being knocked out by Canada.

He’s given fans plenty to get excited about, and Tolvanen is still developing and has big dreams.

“I’m too far away from them, they’re elite snipers. When I was young, I dreamt about shooting like Ovechkin,” he said in an interview with the KHL’s website in August. “Hope that one day I could be at his level.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.