The Predators really wanted Eeli Tolvanen in Nashville for a run at the Stanley Cup.
They broke precedent in signing the 18-year-old Finnish winger to a fully-loaded entry-level contract on Thursday – making Tolvanen the first player ever selected outside the top two in the NHL draft to receive full “Schedule A” and “Schedule B” bonuses from the team who took him.
It’s both a sign of how well Tolvanen’s played since getting picked 30th overall in June and how determined the league-leading Predators are to win now.
“This is a great move, obviously, for today and our future,” general manager David Poile told reporters. “He comes in at a great spot right now with six games left in the regular season. It gives us an opportunity to give him a look and gives us that depth that we’re going to need in the playoffs.”
According to Dominik Zrim of CapFriendly, Tolvanen is the 24th player to receive a maxed-out contract since the entry-level system was introduced in 2005. It includes an annual salary of $925,000 and up to $2.85 million in bonuses for each of the three seasons.
It’s the same structure given to each of the 14 No. 1 picks ranging from Alex Ovechkin to Nico Hischier, along with No. 2s Evgeni Malkin and Jack Eichel. The other seven players to receive it all had leverage through free agency: Tyler Bozak (Toronto, 2009), Justin Schultz (Edmonton, 2012), Corban Knight (Calgary, 2013), Kevin Hayes (N.Y. Rangers, 2014), Sergei Plotnikov (Pittsburgh, 2015), Jimmy Vesey (N.Y. Rangers, 2016) and Will Butcher (New Jersey, 2017).
The sway Tolvanen had in his talks was an ability to stay home and continue playing for Jokerit Helsinki. Instead, he terminated his contract with the KHL team after it was eliminated from the playoffs earlier this week in order to join the Preds.
The closest comparable to the Tolvanen situation is Evgeny Kuznetsov, a 26th-overall pick by Washington who received full bonuses in the second year of his two-year entry-level contract when he came to North America from the KHL in 2013.
Tolvanen has enjoyed a season that may never be repeated. He represented Finland at both the Pyeongchang Olympics and world junior championship and put up 19 goals and 36 points in 49 games with Jokerit.
He’s expected to make his NHL debut when Nashville hosts Buffalo on Saturday and could play his way into a regular spot on a team currently vying for the Presidents’ Trophy. Tolavanen’s big shot seems like a good fit for a Predators power play that is currently ranked 16th league-wide.
Should he appear in 10 games this spring – counting playoffs – it would burn the first year off his new contract, but it’s not the sort of deal he’ll be in a hurry to rush through.