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What We Learned: What to expect from Predators' Eeli Tolvanen

Predators 2017 first-rounder Eeli Tolvanen has had a record-breaking season in the KHL. (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Over the weekend, Predators 2017 first-round pick Eeli Tolvanen confirmed that his plan is to go to the NHL after his KHL season with Jokerit comes to an end.

Jokerit is currently in the midst of a KHL conferece quarterfinal series against Sochi, and will likely win it. That means you’re probably looking at another two or three weeks before Tolvanen is able to come over the NHL, maybe another before he’s up to speed with what the Predators want from him.

David Poile has all but said Tolvanen will be used as a top-six forward once he arrives in Nashville — that’s The Jimmy Vesey Promise! — and that makes plenty of sense. This season, Tolvanen became the best 18-year-old in KHL history, scoring 19 goals and 36 points in 49 games, nudging Evgeni Kuznetsov’s age-18 points- and goals-per-game by fractions (0.735 to 0.727 and 0.388 to 0.386, respectively).

These numbers basically blow every other age-18 season in KHL history out of the water. Besides these two, only Vladimir Tarasenko and Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov have even cleared half a point a game.

Tolvanen also had a dominant season in international hockey. He had nine points in five games at the Olympic tournament, and six in five at the world juniors for Finnish teams that weren’t exactly set up to be world-beaters. So basically, this is a guy who is playing at an elite level against basically all conceivable competition at just 18 years old — he won’t be 19 until late April, about a week after the start of the playoffs — and who the Predators will, at the very least, use as a power play specialist late in the regular season and into the playoffs.

But the question is, what can Nashville actually expect from Tolvanen? There’s always a learning curve going from international ice to the closer proximity of North American rinks, especially because the NHL is also the biggest, fastest and most physically demanding league in addition to being the most talent-packed at every position.

None of this is to suggest that Tolvanen couldn’t handle the demands of the NHL or isn’t used to North American rinks; he spent two seasons in the USHL and scored 47 goals and 92 points in 101 career games heading into his draft year (he intended to play college hockey this year but didn’t get into Boston College; good lord, imagine if he had). There’s obviously a difference between the USHL and the NHL, but to say he’s unfamiliar with the North American style wouldn’t be fair.

Likewise, any concerns that Tolvanen would be playing “too many games” this year is silly. While his resume is certainly packed — KHL, Euro Hockey Tour, world juniors, Olympics — he’s only played as many games this year (64) as P.K. Subban and Calle Jarnkrok, who lead Nashville in games played. Plus he’s 18 so he can probably handle the workload.

But in terms of Tolvanen’s actual on-ice impact in Nashville, it’s important for people (including Poile) not to set their sights too high here. He is a dynamic talent, to be sure, but it’s exceptionally rare for any 18-year-olds to be big-time contributors for NHL teams. For every Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon, there’s a Val Nichushkin, Sasha Barkov and Alex Galchenyuk. The latter three all clearly had talent levels well above the average teenager in the NHL, and they turned in solid age-18 seasons, but they weren’t huge difference-makers for their clubs.

We don’t have a lot to go on here, right? Alex Radulov went from the KHL to the NHL midseason in 2011-12, also for Nashville, and scored seven points in nine regular-season games, then six in eight playoff games, but got run out of town for being a party boy. He was, however, 26 years old for that little run and had previously played 155 NHL games between the regular- and post-seasons, so it’s perhaps not the best comparable.

Likewise, you can’t really compare what Kuznetsov did as an 18-year-old to Tolvanen, at least in terms of what that means for their immediate impact in the NHL. That’s because Kuznetsov’s age-18 season (2010-11) came three years before he finally made the jump to the NHL. When he did, he too moved after his KHL team was eliminated from the playoffs, and scored nine points in Washington’s final 17 regular-season games. Washington missed the playoffs that year. (Remember Adam Oates? Haha.) This was, however, in Kuznetsov’s age-21 season.

So maybe Nichushkin is actually a decent comparable here, because he went right from Russia during the most recent lockout season as a 17-year-old to the NHL at 18, and put up 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games in his draft year plus-1 for Dallas. This wasn’t midseason but it’s rare for a Russian teen to jump at all, so here we are.

Nichushkin’s KHL track record before coming to North America (4-2-6 in 18 games in his draft year) wasn’t as impressive as Tolvanen’s, even taking his slightly younger age into account.

So let’s say, for example, Tolvanen can’t produce like a mid-20s Radulov could, coming off a number of dominant KHL seasons. But let’s also say he’s probably better than Nichushkin was coming to North America for the first time at 18. Does that put him somewhere in the range of what Kuznetsov did at age 21, scoring a little more than half a point a game?

By the latest NHLe, which attempts to calculate approximate point production from various lower-level leagues around the world, a player scoring like Tolvanen did in the KHL would be expected to score about 45 points in 82 NHL games. That’s a little better than Kuznetsov’s initial NHL production (0.545 points per game vs. 0.529), and by way of comparison is right in the neighborhood of what Mikko Koivu, Patrick Maroon, Andreas Athanasiou and Jonathan Drouin are scoring this season.

These, too, are good players, but the idea that you’d get yourself all fired up to acquire most of those guys at the deadline is maybe a bit much. Especially if the hype train rolls into the station with people expecting Tolvanen to be more like what people think Drouin is (rather than what he’s doing this year).

All I’m saying is, if he’s an 18-year-old scoring more than half a point a game, that’s awesome. He would be the fourth 18-year-old to hit that level of production in the cap era. You just don’t want people getting too far ahead of themselves and expecting him to be anything more than is reasonable.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: My advice for the Ducks to not need to create momentum swings by killing penalties is to take fewer penalties. Radical thinking, I know.

Arizona Coyotes: This is from last week but man, what a headline.

Boston Bruins: Bruins fans spent like 45 minutes on Saturday night trying to Zapruder-film their way into believing Brendan Gallagher chopped Charlie McAvoy’s foot off with a slash, but it ended up being a totally innocuous trip and you feel like these people really want a patsy anyway. Hey, Oswald said he was a patsy, right?

Buffalo Sabres: The No. 1 thing for Sabres fans to do the rest of the season? Wait for Jack Eichel to maybe come back healthy if he can to play the last eight games or something. That’s not a thing I made up for a joke, that’s actually what they’re saying in Buffalo.

Calgary Flames: To be fair to the Flames after a “stinker,” I feel like if you create 51 shots on goal, with a team-counted 87 scoring chances, you’re not gonna lose 3-1 too often. No moral victories for the Flames at this time of year, though.

Carolina Hurricanes: Peace and love to Jordan Staal and his family. I don’t know how your infant daughter passes away and you’re back at work a week later. That’s really something.

Chicago Blackhawks: It’s all going great now!

Colorado Avalanche: Turns out correlation (trading Matt Duchene) is indeed causation (being pretty good but not great or anything) after all.

Columbus Blue Jackets: It’s amazing to me that this team might miss the playoffs but that’s what the people of Columbus get for doubting me last year. You’re up next, Vegas.

Dallas Stars: At this point the Stars have to be all but assured a playoff spot, right? They and Minnesota seem like the only two non-locks in their division who have a real chance at this point.

Detroit Red Wings: A million “hmmmmmmm” emoji for the “Is it time for Ken Holland to go?” takes.

Edmonton Oilers: Yeah when you can’t beat a post-selloff Rangers team, and look bad in not winning, that’s gotta be the thing that kickstarts some big-time changes for your club.

Florida Panthers: Can we stop with this? Good lord. Yeah the Panthers are a point out of the playoffs with games in hand, but they’re also two points better than the Rangers who are now actively tanking. So, c’mon. Who cares.

Los Angeles Kings: Speaking of, this team is currently in a playoff spot but man, I dunno.

Minnesota Wild: It’s like golf, baby! If you have a bad showing, like one where you give up seven to Colorado and Nathan MacKinnon solidifies his own case for the MVP, you just gotta put it behind you.

Montreal Canadiens: When your stated goal is “avoid embarrassment” against your arch rival, that to me is great and good.

Nashville Predators: This is an attendance award.

New Jersey Devils: Taylor Hall is scoring his ass off lately and he’s still only eighth in the league in points per game. Pretty good!

New York Islanders: This is a headline that could have been published at any point in the last two decades, to be honest.


Ottawa Senators: Imagine being a person who watched this Sens-Coyotes game. What must life be like?

Philadelphia Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere: Nice guy and dark-horse Norris candidate. Just sayin’.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The real place the Penguins need to make a change in the lineup is in net, because with Matt Murray out you get Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. Which to me is, like, no thanks.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks owner met with the team and said he “expects a winner.” Bad news, Hasso.

St. Louis Blues: If the Stastny trade wasn’t the nail in the coffin, losing to Dallas again probably was.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning play their next seven games at home. Is that good?

Toronto Maple Leafs: I know the game was at the Naval Academy but this headline is a huge stretch regardless. There are like six better nautical expressions to use here: sunk, capsized, etc.

Vancouver Canucks: This take is one of those things where you go, “Come on,” but then you think about it and go, “Ah actually, that might be true, but that’s kinda sad.”

Vegas Golden Knights: *Me saying “hmmmmmmm” into the inky black void of space for a literal eternity*

Washington Capitals: It should be illegal to write “Isn’t playing outside special?” columns at this point.

Winnipeg Jets: If the Jets start losing a bunch of games all of a sudden, I think we’ll know why.

Play of the Weekend

Look at this damn stretch pass by Alex Killorn. The fact that it created a 2-on-1 for Kucherov and Stamkos against Andy MacDonald made this goal academic. (What was Andy MacDonald doing out there against Stamkos and Kucherov???)

Gold Star Award

Larry Brooks with the line of the season: “Accepted theory that a team can only come up with a franchise player by bottoming out and cashing in at the draft doesn’t at all hold up if you can get Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli to trade with you.”

My man!!!!!

Minus of the Weekend

The college hockey playoffs started this week so I can’t be mad about anything. I love you all!!!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “zeke” has a trade proposal that literally made me laugh and say “Yes dude” out loud in my living room.

To TOR: S.Weber

To MTL: T.Liljegren, K.Kapanen, C.Pickard


Uhhh, Upstate New York?

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)