The Nashville Predators return largely the same team from last season, but Eeli Tolvanen is a key newcomer that could ignite the engine.
A new season and a clean slate begin in a month for the Nashville Predators as they try to remain one of the top contenders in the NHL. They return the same core group of players that won them the franchise’s first division title and Presidents’ Trophy last season. However, there’s one guy who will fit in and give the Predators a new look.
Eeli Tolvanen is the highly-anticipated rookie winger who appeared in just three games last season. Other than three shots on goal in his final appearance of the season, he was mainly non-existent. With a full offseason of preparation and development, now it’s time to figure out where he fits in the lineup.
The Predators already have an impressive roster from top to bottom. Their defensive group is one of the best in the league, and they should be in the top ten once again in scoring. If Tolvanen comes out of the gate guns blazing, this group has a great chance to be better than any Predators team we’ve ever seen. Let’s examine where Tolvanen may end up in the opening game’s lineup.
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What Tolvanen will provide
Tolvanen’s raw shooting ability makes him a hot commodity for the power play. He has a wicked one-timer that translates well to the NHL. If you set him up properly, he’s going to get his fair amount of shots on goal. His development is hopefully focusing on navigating the ice and building up his physical attributes.
We will see in the early going how much Tolvanen has improved when it comes to playing without the puck. That’s his biggest room for improvement. With just three games of NHL experience, it’s to be expected that there’s plenty of room for growth. How much he’s developed over the offseason won’t be known for sure until we see some preseason action. He seems confident about his offseason development, per Adam Vingan of the Tennessean:
"“I was just a kid last year. I think I’m a better player all around right now.”"
The Predators can definitely use another weapon on the offensive end to take pressure off of the top two lines. Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson can’t carry the offensive load every night. If I’m nitpicking a bit, the Predators sometimes go flat on offense when the second, third and fourth lines don’t show up. We saw this happen to the second line in the playoffs. Tolvanen can end up being the answer to that problem whenever the JoFA line isn’t in top form.
Don’t be surprised or freak out if Tolvanen starts off slow in his rookie season. It’s going to require patience as he keeps building chemistry with his teammates. However, he will see a few scoring flurries throughout the season that will get him well into double-digit goals by season’s end.
What line Tolvanen should be on
I don’t see Tolvanen cracking the top two lines. That could obviously change if he takes the NHL by storm and starts scoring goals and racking up points quicker than expected. With where we sit prior to the preseason, he’s a third line guy for me. Put him alongside veteran Nick Bonino and see how their chemistry looks. Bonino is an excellent all-around player who will be able to find open opportunities for Tolvanen to thrive in.
It’s already impressive that Tolvanen is even in the conversation of being on such a loaded lineup so quickly. That’s usually not the case for most players that haven’t even exited their teenage years. Tolvanen is a special exception, and how he fell to the 30th overall pick for the Predators to take him still amazes me.
Tolvanen may very well go on a scoring barrage and quickly ascend through the lineup and send Kevin Fiala or Craig Smith to the third line. That seems far-fetched at this point, but it’s not completely crazy to think. It’s all about finding where Tolvanen has the most chemistry, and it may end up being on the second line with Kyle Turris, eventually. There is even talk from Robby Stanley of NHL.com that Tolvanen could immediately push Fiala or Smith back to the third line. It might happen, but contrary to popular belief, a more patient approach should happen in the beginning. There’s no reason to disrupt the chemistry of the top two lines which helped win a Presidents’ Trophy.
It’s a matter of when, and not if, Tolvanen surges up the lineup and makes a big impact on the offensive attack. I want to see him on the third line with Bonino to open up the regular season to see his progress after an offseason. If he’s excelling early on, especially on the power play, there will be plenty of time to move him into the appropriate spot in the lineup before the playoffs arrive. After all, the Predators aren’t desperate for him to be the savior right away.