2018-2019 Player Reviews: Eeli Tolvanen
The much-anticipated forward got his first NHL look this season.
Would I be dipping into the player reviews pool if it wasn’t for a skater who played less than 50 minutes in Nashville this season? Simply, no. I won’t spend much time in this piece reviewing what we already know about Tolvanen, and I won’t be weighing in on if he should have been assigned to Milwaukee or not. When reviewing Tolvanen’s 2018-19 season, I want to address three things: his four-game Nashville audition, his production in Milwaukee, and his offensive evolution from the previous season in the KHL.
Season in Review
Tolvanen skated in four games in 2018-19, totaling a little over 47 minutes in ice time and recording one goal and one secondary assist. Skating primarily with Craig Smith and Calle Järnkrok in those four outings, Tolvanen had a 62.2% corsi-for share that rated at 7.65% relative to his teammates.
The sample size makes things negligible, but Tolvanen also finished with a 46.7% goals-for rate relative to the rest of the roster.
These numbers aren’t unexpected, and, again, our sample size makes things impossible to truly analyze. In showing where Tolvanen boosts shot rates for Nashville above, the usual spots stand out, considering his shooting ability from the face-off circles.
It took most of the season for expectations to shift for Tolvanen. His 2017-18 season in the KHL (which was inflated by power play scoring) caused varying levels of criticism during a slow start in Milwaukee.
That start is undeniable, but the Finnish sniper ended with 15 goals and 35 points in 58 games, good for fourth on the Admirals and second among U20 forwards in the AHL—all while shooting at 9.6% rate.
2017/18 v. 2018/19
In May, I wrote about Tolvanen’s first AHL season and the subject of growing pains; you can read that here.
His KHL season was overly-reliant on power play scoring from his preferred shooting position: the face-off circles, particularly the right one. In Milwaukee, Tolvanen was able to spread that out, scoring more from high-danger areas and more off the rush, too. In fact, he only scored one goal from his typical KHL position in 2018-19.
This is complemented well by where Tolvanen was beating goalies. In the 2017-18 season, Tolvanen scored 67% of his goals in the top-right corner of the net (and the rest nearly in the top-left). In Milwaukee, Tolvanen’s scoring positions helped better his ability at beating goalies differently; his goals were fairly spread out between the top shelf, the low-blocker/glove side, and the five-hole. This is likely a natural progression in his development as a player, but it’s important to highlight the increase in his width of scoring ability.
Easy choice here. Tolvanen notched his first NHL goal against Chicago this season in a beautiful display of his shooting ability.
With his diminutive amount of ice time in the NHL, assigning a ‘Worst Moment’ for Tolvanen is a futile exercise.
In my end-of-season analysis, Tolvanen graded out as the best prospect in the organization on the wing with decent separation. This, of course, is unsurprising; per Manny Perry’s estimation, he still has a 97% probability to become a regular NHL player.
He’s starting the season in Milwaukee, and I think that’s for the best. His possession driving and scoring rates will surely increase with the improvements in his game and more ice time. I can’t imagine he plays a full season in the AHL, but I think he can increase his 0.60 points per game scoring rate to the 0.7 - 0.8 levels and challenge for the team lead in offensive production.
Tolvanen’s audition in the NHL was nothing of incredible substance, but his first goal is an important milestone. His AHL production picked up along the way, resulting in an excellent second half of the season. Ultimately, I think he made a great adjustment to the North American game, so a ‘B’ is appropriate given his slow start.
How would you grade Eeli Tolvanen’s season in Nashville?
All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com and corsica.hockey.