NASHVILLE — The Nashville Predators already sit atop the NHL standings, and now they’ve added another offensive boost before the playoffs.
General manager David Poile announced Thursday that the team had signed forward Eeli Tolvanen of Finland, the 30th pick overall last year, to an entry-level contract. Poile credited Tolvanen’s agent, Jay Grossman, with being in Nashville to finalize the last details in time for Tolvanen to be on the ice with the Predators at their morning skate .
"This is a great move obviously for today and our future," Poile said after reeling off some of Tolvanen’s accomplishments in the past few months. "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. So this is the end of my paper, but I’d like to add a couple more lines here before the year’s over."
Terms of the contract were not announced.
Tolvanen spent two years in the United States Hockey League with the Sioux City Musketeers before opting to go to home to play for Jokerit in Kontinental Hockey League. With 36 points, he set the KHL scoring record for an 18-year-old before Jokerit was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.
He also played for Finland in the 2018 Winter Olympics, where he tied for the second-most points by an under-19 player, with nine points in five games.
Poile said that production is proof that Tolvanen should’ve gone a lot earlier than 30th in the draft, where Nashville was surprised to find the 5-foot-10 forward still available.
"We were looking for an offensive player, one that can score some goals, and it certainly appears on the surface that we found that out," Poile said.
Tolvanen didn’t arrive in Nashville from Helsinki, Finland, until early Thursday. Coach Peter Laviolette wants Tolvanen to watch Thursday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks and to start picking up Nashville’s system. Having watched the forward the past few months, especially his games at the Olympics, Laviolette said he sees a smart player with great offensive instincts.
"We hope that that translates here," Laviolette said. "We think it will."
Tolvanen’s NHL debut is likely to occur Saturday night when the Predators face the Buffalo Sabres to wrap up a three-game home stand. Tolvanen said he has played on a lot of new teams recently, which should ease his transition. He also credited playing with former NHL players at the Olympics with helping him as well.
Joining a team that had an NHL-best 109 points going into Thursday night also doesn’t hurt.
"I know they’re a really good team, so it’s easy to jump in," Tolvanen said. "There’s a lot of good players, and they’re going to push me forward. I think that’s a good thing for me."
Jokerit coach Jukka Jalonen told The Associated Press that the team is looking forward to what happens with Tolvanen in the NHL. Jalonen said he expects Tolvanen to need time to get used to better opponents and bigger defencemen.
"After two, three weeks, a few games, I think he will make an impression there," Jalonen said.
Matching expectations that have grown with every video highlight shared on social media might be a challenge even for Tolvanen. The teen debuted in the KHL with a hat trick on Aug. 23 for Jokerit.
Poile thanked Jokerit general manager and Hockey Hall of Famer Jari Kurri for his help in getting Tolvanen to Nashville. Kurri told the AP that the timing is perfect for Tolvanen to join the NHL with so many young players, especially fellow Finns like Patrik Laine of Winnipeg and Sebastian Aho of Carolina, doing well in the league right now.
"That will really help him," Kurri told the AP by phone.