It’s time for our annual countdown of the best 25 Nashville Predators players under 25 years old.
This is not only a tradition here at OTF, but is also something that you might see at many other SBNation NHL blogs. The premise is simple: rank the 25 best players who have not yet reached their 25th birthday (as of August 1st, 2017).
At #12, this year’s first-round pick, Eeli Tolvanen.
This year’s first round pick for the Nashville Predators has a lot of people’s heads turning. His story is pretty well documented, so let me highlight another point quickly: I was somewhat surprised that the Preds’ picked Tolvanen 30th overall this year. Not because I didn’t expect him to fall, but because I expected, rather pessimistically, the organization to go with the conservative pick. It was refreshing to see Poile and company adopt the best-player-available approach at the right time – especially after seeing teams like the Red Wings and Senators take players with bottom-six ceilings. The Preds’ organization hasn’t always been one to stick their neck out there, but, as many have declared, they could have the steal of the draft in their pipeline now.
The smart thing about picking the best available is that player typically has more well-rounded tools or a better ability to grow than players hammered into roles right off the bat; Tolvanen is no exception. Pegged by many as a top-10 player in the draft, Tolvanen dropped to 30th overall for a few reasons. Teams were reportedly concerned about his defensive play, his size, his attitude, and his immediate future. The day before the draft, it was reported that Tolvanen had not met Boston College’s admission requirements and was without a team to play for next season.
As we now know, Tolvanen will be playing for Jokerit of the KHL next season and that could prove better for his development than the college route. Tolvanen spent the past two seasons playing for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL. After posting 38 points in 49 games his first season, Tolvanen exploded for 30 goals and 54 points in 52 games in 2016-17. He added 10 more points in 13 playoff games and starred for Finland at the World Junior Championships in December. In the USHL, Tolvanen was not only an elite score but an elite shot generator.
The table from Corey Pronman above is pretty telling about Tolvanen’s love to fire the puck. Most everyone is familiar with the Preds’ own high-volume shooter, Viktor Arvidsson, and Tolvanen isn’t much different. Shot distance should be something to keep an eye on, but Tolvanen’s shot generation is complimented by his lethal release. This is probably cliche at this point, but he is a true sniper in every sense of the word – a player type that many drool over. For consideration, he once had 14 shots in one game.
Tolvanen’s shot speaks for itself. His release comes from further back than most shooters and a bit closer to the hip making it deceptive and accurate without sacrificing speed. His acceleration is quick but his speed and stride aren’t necessarily elite. He’s been known to float in the defensive zone but has excellent awareness when on his game. His physical play is largely non-existent, but that’s not overly concerning. He has playmaking abilities but does such a good job of shooting on the fly that he backs up his shoot-first attitude. His ability to not sacrifice lateral quickness and adjust shooting lanes in an instant will stand out in the NHL.
Tolvanen has time to burn. Although it may be desirable to see him in the AHL as soon as possible, the KHL will be helpful in pressuring the parts of his game he is good at and forcing him to improve at the aspects he isn’t. It’s hard to pinpoint his arrival, but the kid is playing pro hockey this season, so what more could we ask for?
Tolvanen is currently signed to a one-year deal with Jokerit and has an option for a second season.
All stats are courtesy of eliteprospects.com.