There’s going to be a lot of focus on the youth of the Nashville Predators coming into the fold on the NHL level in 2021.
The Nashville Predators are going to count on some youth and inexperience to take charge next season if they’re going to avoid falling further back in the Western Conference.
There’s no player that’s getting more attention in this regard than Eeli Tolvanen. He’s been on everyone’s radar since being drafted in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft at 30th overall following the trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
If you remember correctly at the time of that pick of Tolvanen, many were excited that he fell that far, while the confidence in the Predators returning to the Stanley Cup Final was still high.
Tolvanen’s development has gone slower than many would want, but he’s only 21-years-old and we are seeing solid improvement in his game outside of the NHL.
Tolvanen is leading the youth movement
The focus will naturally be on top players like Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene and Roman Josi to lead the way, but we’re really counting on Tolvanen to take a big step forward this time around. The Predators need him badly to fill in on the second line with Duchene.
What’s a fair bar to set for Tolvanen in 2021 as he’ll likely get an extended amount of time on the NHL level? He doesn’t have to necessarily take the league by storm, but he does have to do much better than some of the players he’s replacing.
Tolvanen isn’t really replacing one exact player, but the most notable one to think about is Mikael Granlund. Can Tolvanen make a bigger impact than what Granlund managed to do?
Granlund showed a little life down the stretch and finished with 17 goals last season, but nothing to get overly excited about. He was a huge letdown here in Nashville, and now Tolvanen needs to, at the very least, match that production.
It’s not just Granlund that he’s effectively replacing. There are departures to Kyle Turris, Colin Blackwell and Nick Bonino that also raise the importance that Tolvanen is ready to produce on the NHL level.
Growing his game for the NHL
Tolvanen is currently playing in the KHL and doing moderately well in arguably the world’s best league, behind the NHL. He’s got eight points in 13 games, including a game-winning goal for Jokerit.
In 2017-18 for Jokerit, Tolvanen scored 19 goals in 49 games. He has a considerable amount of experience on this level, so you have to think he’s ready to translate that to the NHL. Or at least that’s what Predators GM David Poile has to be hopeful for.
If Tolvanen were to match that type of production next season for the Predators, I’d be very pleased with it. The most important thing is he’s continuing to get development instead of sitting on the shelf and not growing his game.
We don’t know how many games will be played in the next regular season, but it figures to be short of the full 82 games. With that being said, I’m not going to predict exact totals for Tolvanen.
The main expectation for Tolvanen next season is he finds his place on the roster and sticks there. That he can gain the confidence of the coaching staff and finds a long-term spot in Nashville.
For him to stick around on the NHL level, he’ll have to obviously improve the defensive aspect of his game. He can’t just purely be a power play specialist, although that would be nice to see him make a big impact in that area.
The Predators also can’t pull the plug on Tolvanen early in the season if he’s not producing. They have to see what they have in him on a long-term level, much like the other prospects who will get hard looks next season.
If the NHL can figure out a way to get in around 60 games, then Tolvanen needs to come in around 25-30 points. Nothing groundbreaking, but enough production to warrant him being on the starting roster.
Seeing Tolvanen on the power play unit will also be very telling.
Tolvanen playing alongside a skilled puck handler like Duchene will be largely beneficial to his development. Expect Tolvanen to get a lot of high-danger scoring opportunities on Duchene’s line.
The question is, can Tolvanen capitalize on those chances and find the back of the net? And there’s still a lot to figure out on who will be matched with Duchene.
Furthermore, it doesn’t end with Tovlanen having to play on the second line. If it’s not working out there, move him down the lineup and see what happens in that role. They have to invest in him on the NHL level this upcoming season.
For better or worse, look for a whole lot of Tolvanen in 2021 for the Predators.