It was expected that several Olympians who began the tournament playing outside the NHL would make their way to North America sometime after the conclusion of the PyeongChang games.
The dominoes started to fall just hours after Finland was eliminated by Canada in a 1-0 nail-biter on Wednesday, with reports surfacing that Eeli Tolvanen, Nashville’s first-round pick last June, is likely to make his NHL debut this season with the Predators.
According to The Athletic’s Craig Custance, Tolvanen is “fully expected” to be heading to Smashville once his season with Jokerit of the KHL — where the 18-year-old has 34 points in 47 games — is complete.
“We’ll have a contract in place to be able to execute and have him come over here,” Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton told Custance on Wednesday. “That’s the plan. Funnier things have happened. I don’t want to say 100 percent. I never do that in our business. Yes, our plan is to have him.”
Tolvanen will be joining a contending club in Nashville during the most intense and pressure-packed part of the season with exactly zero NHL games under his belt. The Predators, however, have been observing Tolvanen’s game under a microscope throughout the entirety of the Olympics and don’t appear to be concerned about tossing him into into the lineup in the midst of a stretch run.
“When you watch the young man play, his maturity is off the charts,” said Fenton. “That’s the thing that jumps out to me the most … you find that with the Finns. They know the details of the game. They pay attention to the details. They do their job. Coaches love that. It’s the smarts that give you that edge to win.”
Despite being one of the youngest regulars in the KHL and the most junior on his team, Tolvanen has been a force for Helsinki-based Jokerit in his first season of professional hockey — sitting second on the club in goals (17) and points, while posting a plus-12 rating. Before heading home to start this season, the Nummela, Finland product tallied 47 goals and 92 points in 101 games over two seasons with Sioux City of the USHL. He was the tournament’s leading scorer after the preliminary round in PyeongChang (3-3–6).
Though it’s not been confirmed and would be foolish to put lavish expectations on a kid barely out of high school, it looks like Tolvanen can and should be a regular in Nashville’s top-nine and should see some solid minutes on the Nashville’s powerplay — which currently ranks 5th in the NHL at 22.4 percent.
That’s a pretty good deadline pickup.
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