Finnish reporter Pekka Jalonen is reporting this morning that 2017 NHL Draft pick Eeli Tolvanen has signed his entry-level contract with the Nashville Predators.
Eeli Tolvanen has signed a 3 yrs ELC with the #Preds. Same terms as McDavid, Eichel, Matthews and Hischier have in their ELC. Tolvanen also has Euro clause meaning he doesn’t have to go down to Milwaukee, can come back to Europe if not playing in NHL. https://t.co/JzWtyxjuFV
— Pekka Jalonen (@PekkaJalonen) March 27, 2018
Tolvanen’s KHL season recently came to an end when Jokerit lost Game 6 of their Western Conference semifinal series with CSKA, 4-3. This allowed Tolvanen to begin negotiations with Nashville on an NHL deal.
What’s important to remember here is Jokerit General Manager Jari Kurri had to agree to release the 18-year old winger from his contract in order for the Preds to officially sign him. Since Tolvanen’s KHL deal was for two years (2017-18 and an option for 2018-19) — and because the first year was scheduled to end April 30 — Kurri and Jokerit held up their end of the bargain from this past summer when they signed him: in the event Jokerit’s season ends early, they would release him to go to the NHL.
Also of note from Jalonen, if he’s a full-time player on the NHL roster, great. But, if he can’t quite cut it for whatever reason, Tolvanen doesn’t have to report to the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. He could choose to sign with Jokerit (or whichever team in Europe) instead.
According to the report, Tolvanen is getting the same entry-level deal as top young players such as Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, Toronto’s Auston Matthews and New Jersey’s Nico Hischier. The cap hit and annual salary are capped for ELC’s but the bonuses are not and this is what Jalonen is referring to. Not only were each of these guys first overall picks in their respective draft years (Jack Eichel was also mentioned who would’ve gone first overall had McDavid not been in the same draft class) but they’re cornerstones to their teams’ success for the next decade. Apparently the Predators feel Tolvanen is in that same class.
Tolvanen fell to the Preds at number 30 and, as a result, they got tremendous value despite earning a late pick for the first time in franchise history. Are they overpaying to add his services on a roster that’s already breaking at the seams with talent and depth?
In a word, hardly.
Tolvanen’s skill set and deadly accurate shot could come in handy for a Nashville squad who knows all too well how injuries can derail a playoff run. They went to the Stanley Cup Final last year but people sometimes forget that they did so without Kevin Fiala (injured in the second round) and Ryan Johansen (injured in the Western Conference Final). All of a sudden Freddy Gaudreau — who was a “black ace” (extra players who are almost never called upon but are with the team in case of injury) — was thrust into the lineup after not playing a single hockey game in over a month.
In fairness, Gaudreau played his tail off, becoming the first player since John Harms in 1944 to score his first three career NHL goals in the Final. But can the Predators count on that every year? Absolutely not. The bottom line is, with Fiala and Johansen in the lineup, the outcome in the Final very well could’ve been different. Tolvanen could be a piece of that.
That’s not to suggest Tolvanen will be black ace. Far from it. But he’s just another piece of the puzzle when it comes to scoring depth for Nashville.
Monday night, the KHL themselves wished good luck to one of their more marketable stars.
– Youngest hat trick in KHL history
– Most points by U19 players in a single KHL season (36 Pts, 49 GP)
– 2-time rookie of the month
– 6-time rookie of the week
– 2018 #KHLAllStar appearance
Thanks for an amazing season, @eeli1999!
Good luck in the NHL! pic.twitter.com/s5lrjNrWbZ
— KHL (@khl_eng) March 26, 2018
Assuming he doesn’t play Thursday night against San Jose — although that’s not impossible if he flies to Music City sometime today — he will have five games of regular season experience at his disposal before the playoffs. In an odd scheduling quirk, all five would be against Eastern Conference opponents.
Could Nashville use him on the fourth line to limit his minutes but also use him as a power play specialist? Given the amount of hockey he’s played this season between the KHL, the World Juniors, the Olympics and the KHL playoffs, that might not be a bad way for the Preds to see what they have. It also would set him up to succeed, which is how you build the confidence of any young player. Plus, let’s face it, Nashville’s fourth line isn’t the prototypical “NHL fourth line.” With guys like Colton Sissons, Mike Fisher, Austin Watson and Ryan Hartman on it, Tolvanen would have guys with offensive instincts to work with.
Also part of the matrix is the status of Calle Jarnkrok. The third line winger sustained a regular season-ending injury March 13. Could Tolvanen flank Nick Bonino along with Scott Hartnell to see if he fits there? And, if it’s successful, is Jarnkrok pushed out — or onto the fourth line — when he’s ready to return?
All of these questions will be sorted out shortly. Either way, Tolvanen is now a Nashville Predator and your first chance to see the kid who lit the hockey world on fire these past seven months will be live, in-person and in gold soon.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover