The Nashville Predators have never had a pick in the first round as late as they did this year. That’s the downside (if there is one) of going to the Stanley Cup Final.
On Friday night in Chicago, the Preds used the 30th overall pick in the 2017 Draft to take Finnish winger Eeli Tolvanen.
As opposed to playing in his native Finland, Tolvanen chose to come states side and play his junior hockey for the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League.
“Finnish junior hockey just wasn’t good enough,” Tolvanen said of his reasoning on 102.5 the Game. “The USHL is such a great league. There’s a lot of great players and it’s good hockey. I’ve learned a lot over the past two years.”
As far as the scouting reports coming into the draft, prospect expert Corey Pronman of ESPN called Tolvanen “the steal of the first round” and Dan Friedman of Sports Illustrated called him “the best pure shooter in the draft and an electrifying talent.”
You don’t often hear praise like that when it comes to the player chosen just two picks before the night is over.
“He’s an excellent offensive player,” Jeff Kealty, Predators Chief Amateur Scout, said. “He’s very mature in the way that he plays. He skates, he works for pucks, but the real strength of his game is the ability to make plays. He’s got a terrific shot and release, puts a lot of pucks on net and can beat goalies from different spots.”
As a kid growing up in Finland, Tolvanen watched a lot of NHL hockey on TV and found himself with a favorite player in no time.
“When I was a little kid, Teemu Selanne, for sure,” he said. “He was a goal scorer and I’m a goal scorer too. I like scoring goals so watching Teemu have a great career in the NHL and score all those goals, it was just unreal to watch.”
Tolvanen said he’s thrilled to be drafted by the Predators because of the scene he saw during their recent run to the Stanley Cup Final.
“I watched those games and I said ‘one day I wish I could play there,'” he said. “The whole crowd was yelling and the atmosphere was unreal. I mean, I was watching it on TV and I could feel it [through the screen].”
The draft process can be a whirlwind. One moment, you’re sitting with your family waiting for your name to be called and, the next, you’re being whisked away to an interview room, the Upper Deck studio to have your picture taken and then a hit on local radio.
“It’ll probably take a couple days to understand what just happened,” the 18-year old said. “This has been my dream since day one when I started playing hockey but it’s a blur still.”
And that blur will continue as Development Camp starts on Monday, June 26 in Nashville.