Puck Blog

Nashville Prospect’s Report: Eeli Tolvanen

Everyone knows about the scoring, but what comes down the road?

This is the first piece in our newly-expanded prospects coverage for On The Future and, the original, OTF. Throughout the year, we will be writing Reports such as this that will act as in-depth breakdowns of individual players or a couple at a time. We will also be providing Recaps each month with short need-to-knows about everyone in the Preds’ system. And, we hope to bring you live coverage through Scouting Trips to prospects at all levels. Finally, we’ll provide some coverage of next year’s draft class (maybe including live scouting…if we’re lucky). Tolvanen will kick us off so enjoy!

The Nashville Predators’ first-round pick this past summer, as most of you all know, has been exceeding expectations in his first season of professional hockey. As of today, Eeli Tolvanen has 13 goals and 23 points in 23 games for Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League. He’s put nearly 100 pucks on net this season and is shooting at a 13.8% rate while averaging 16:23 minutes per game.

It’s certainly exciting watching Tolvanen, who could be one of the best first-round picks in this draft, putting up consistent numbers in a competative league at his age while leading Jokerit in icetime per game. And while Nashville’s current scoring woes have some fans wondering when he can come over to North America, I plan to take a contextual look at Tolvanen’s success and what we can predict for the future.

This will be broken down into two parts: a) an analysis of the three players ahead of him for U19 scoring in KHL history and the teams they played on and b) an analysis of five establish NHL players who played in the KHL at 18 and their road to the big stage.

U19 Scoring in the KHL

Much has been made of Tolvanen potentially breaking the U19 scoring record in the KHL which is currently held by Evgeny Kuznetsov who notched 32 points in 44 games in 2010-11. Tolvanen sits fourth on the list right now (tied for second in goals) and is on pace to hit 56 points if he plays a full season. To understand his scoring rate and how much a good team contributes to individual success, I’ll analyze three peers.

Vladimir Tarasenko2009-10, Sibir Novosibirsk

Tarasenko scored 13 goals and 24 points in 42 games for Sibir in the 2009-10 season before being drafted by St. Louis in 2010. Sibir finished just outside of the playoffs with a 22-30-4 record and 63 points. Tarasenko scored nearly 9% of Sibir’s goals that season which was a pretty respectable for a team that was comparatively not offensively deficient despite missing the playoffs.

Regardless, Tarasenko’s production that season was inconsistent. He frequently was held off the scoresheet for two or three games at a time and had several goal droughts of three, four, five or more games. Aside from putting together a strong October campaign (9 points in 13 games), Tarasenko’s 2009-10 season was typical of an 18 year old.

The next season, Tarasenko’s points per game dropped from 0.571 to 0.452, but his sophomore season was rather similar. It wasn’t until his third season in the KHL that he broke out as a point per game player.

Kirill Kaprizov, 2015-16, Metallurg Novokuznetsk

Another player generating highlights out of the KHL this season, Minnesota’s Kaprizov was in a similar situation to Tolvanen two seasons ago. Drafted in the 5th round in 2015, Kaprizov went back to the KHL after his draft year for his sophomore season. He scored 11 goals and 27 points in 53 games for Metallurg which finished last in the KHL with a 14-32-14 record and 55 points. Kaprizov scored 8.6% of Metallurg’s goals that season.

Similar to Tarasenko, Kaprizov did face long stretches where he was pointless (five or six games) but overall they were less frequent and Kaprizov had seven multi-point efforts compared to Tarasenko’s four.

Kaprizov’s scoring took off the next season for Salavat as he scored 20 goals and 42 points in 49 games. He’s on pace to score more than a point per game this season with CSKA.

Evegeny Kuznetsov2010-11, Traktor Chelyabinsk

By far the most productive of the trio, Kuznetsov scored 17 goals and 32 points in 44 games during his third KHL season in 2010-11. Much like Kaprizov and Tarasenko, Kuznetsov’s team finished outside the playoffs with a 22-26-6 record and 64 points. He scored nearly 12% of Traktor’s goals that season.

Kuznetsov had eleven multi-point nights in the 2010-11 season. After a few dry spells early in the season, he became a consistent nightly scorer down the stretch.

The following season Kuznetsov improved to 19 goals and 41 points in 49 games for Traktor Chelyabinsk.

So how does this all compare to Tolvanen? Below is a table comparing team success, goals share, scoring consistency, and improvements in U20 and U21 seasons.

*indicates projected total

KHL U19 Scoring

NAME SEASON TEAM TEAM PTS GOAL SHARE LONGEST PT STREAK LONGEST DRY STREAK YEAR 2 PPG IMPROVEMENT YEAR 3 PPG IMPROVEMENT
Eeli Tolvanen 2017-18 Jokerit 133* 18%* 7 games 3 games
Evgeny Kuznetsov 2010-11 Traktor 64 12% 5 games 6 games 0.11 0.14
Kirill Kaprizov 2015-16 Metallurg 55 9% 3 games 7 games 0.35 0.59
Vladimir Tarasenko 2009-10 Sibir 63 9% 5 games 3 games – 0.12 0.40

KHLers Turned Prominent NHLers

Now that we’ve compared Tolvanen’s scorching start to other high-profile 18 year olds in KHL history, let’s look at prolific NHL players who got their start in the KHL. Hopefully we can find some projection path. Heads up: there will be some overlap with the first section, but this one will be more brief.

Vladimir Tarasenko, 2009-10, Sibir Novosibirsk

We’ve gone over most of Tarasenko’s particulars, so this will be a brief rundown. His 2009-10 season was his second in the KHL (24 points). He went on to play 2.5 more seasons in Russia, scoring 19, 47, and 32 points respectively, before joining the Blues. Since coming to the NHL, he has scored 295 points in 351 games.

Artemi Panarin2009-10, Vityaz Chekhov

Panarin spent more time in the KHL than most – five seasons after his U19 campaign where he scored 1 goal and 9 points in 20 games for Vityaz. After that, he scored 21, 31, 19, 40, and 62 points respectively in his next five seasons in the KHL. Since coming to the NHL in 2015-16, he has 161 points in 171 games.

Evegeny Kuznetsov2010-11, Traktor Chelyabinsk

Kuznetsov’s 2010-11 campaign was his second in the KHL. He played three more seasons for Traktor scoring 41, 44, and 21 points respectively before joing the Capitals. In the NHL, he has 176 points in 254 games.

Nikita Kucherov2011-12, CSKA Moskva

The NHL’s latest hot scorer only put up 5 points in 18 games in his U19 season for CSKA in 2011-12. It was his second and last season in the KHL. In 2012-13, Kucherov played for Quebec and Rouyn-Noranda of QMJHL and scored 63 points in 33 games. He joined the Lightning in 2013 and has scored 253 points in 306 games.

Pavel Buchnevich2013-14, Severstal Cherepovets

A rising star for the New York Rangers, Buchnevich scored 18 points in 40 games for Severstal in 2013-14, his second season in the KHL. In two KHL seasons after that he scored 30 and 37 points respectively. In 52 NHL games, he has 27 points.

To summarize, here is all that info in table form (For the sake of consistency, an NHL season counts as 25 or more games [hence why this season isn’t counted]:

KHL to NHL Transition

NAME TEAM KHL SEASONS PPG PPG DIFF (from first to last year) NHL SEASONS PPG PPG DIFF (from first to most recent year)
Vladimir Tarasenko STL 4.5 0.638 0.769 5 0.833 0.415
Artemi Panarin CHI/CBJ 6 0.696 0.948 2 0.932 -0.061
Evgeny Kuznetsov WSH 4.5 0.695 0.448 3 0.709 0.257
Nikita Kucherov TBL 2 0.259 0.056 4 0.821 0.803
Pavel Buchnevich NYR 4 0.551 0.471 1 0.488

It’s clear that much of these players’ NHL success was aided by maturing in the NHL. Aside from Kucherov, they spent several years in the KHL. It’s important to remember that Tolvanen is only 18. Bringing him to North America at 21 or 22 wouldn’t be unprecedented. Kucherov obviously went the Major Junior route for a moment. Oshawa owns Tolvanen’s junior rights, but I doubt we’ll see him in a Generals sweater anytime soon.

Conclusion

So what are all these numbers actually for? It’s hard to truly piece together how Tolvanen’s season will end or where he will be in two years. Here’s what we do know. His consistent production is very impressive. He’s playing on a really good Jokerit team, unlike his predecessors, but is still scoring nearly 20% of their goals. His resiliancy over the course of the schedule will be an important tell.

I’m not predicting Tolvanen will become Nikita Kucherov or Artemi Panarin (but, damn, wouldn’t that be nice?). What seems to be evident, however, is that patience is valuable. As mentioned above, a few years seasoning in the KHL won’t hurt Tolvanen. While it’s possible he might see some ice time for the Preds when the KHL season ends this year, it’s highly likely he returns to Jokerit for the 2018-19 campaign and maybe a year or two after that.

He has the ability to shatter the U19 scoring record and be a special player, but, for my money, the jury is still out, the season is still young, and he’s got a long way to go.

Three key things to watch moving forward will be if he continues to carry this share of Jokerit’s offense, his play late in the season and in the playoffs, and how he starts year number two (provided he is back in the KHL).

Regardless, he’s an exciting kid to watch.

All stats courtesy or eliteprospects.com, KHL.ru, and quanthockey.com.