What to Make of David Poile’s Comments on Eeli Tolvanen

Poile says waiving Tolvanen “could be a mistake”

It’s almost been a full calendar month since the Nashville Predators went the somewhat surprising route of waiving Eeli Tolvanen. The Preds’ 2017 1st Round pick has had a strange journey since then. He was claimed by the Seattle Kraken, but spent three weeks as a healthy scratch before finding his way into the lineup.

But as soon as he did, Tolvanen started paying dividends for the Kraken while simultaneously making Preds fans slam their heads into their desks in frustration. Tolvanen has three goals and five points in his five games in the Seattle lineup, including a two-point performance Monday night against the Canadiens.

This has naturally restarted the entire Tolvanen debate in Smashville, with all of us wondering whether this is a simple case of a motivated player playing his heart out to impress his new team, or if the Preds’ braintrust accidentally gifted another team a dynamic depth scorer with a high ceiling.

Chances are you probably have a strong opinion on that question, and chances are GM David Poile’s response to that question will only make you clench your fists a bit tighter.

During an interview with 102.5 The Game’s Robby & Rexrode, Robby Stanley asked Poile about the process of putting Tolvanen on waivers given his hot run with Seattle.

“We tried Tolvy in lots of different situations with varying success. Where our team was going this year, it just didn’t seem like he had a roster spot. I truly believed if he was going to be successful, it needed to be on the power play — which he’s getting that opportunity in Seattle — and for us, he was just [on] the second power unit and some shorter time to exhibit his offensive capabilities.”

Poile went on to acknowledge a major complaint for Preds fan, saying that the fourth line, where Tolvanen spent the majority of his minutes this season, was probably not the best fit for him. And while he didn’t weigh in on whether or not Tolvanen got enough opportunities to do more in the lineup (only saying “time will tell”), the next part of his answer is probably as transparent of an admission as you’ll get from an NHL general manager.

“This could be a mistake on our part. That’s on me if he turns out to be really successful. But we thought we tried him in a lot of different places, different areas. We were really hoping that we would get him through on waivers so that we could play him in Milwaukee a little bit and then bring him back up. We had to make some decisions... And again, he’s doing well, good for him. And we’ve been doing better — not necessarily because of him, but because we’ve gone in a direction with different types of players.

Alright, there’s a lot to process here.

First, it gives some credence to the Sean Shapiro rumor that Poile was “confident” Tolvanen would clear. And while we’ll probably never know for sure how many teams were interested in him (Seattle was 24th on the waiver list at the time, meaning at least 23 teams passed on him), there’s some naivety in thinking no one would want to take a chance a 23-year-old former first rounder who has displayed at least some scoring pop in the NHL.

As for Poile’s assertion that the Preds tried Tolvanen “in a lot of different places,” there’s two sides to that. On one hand, Tolvanen did spend the vast majority of last season in the top six, a place with equal amounts of responsibility and opportunity, and could never quite hit his stride. And in the few chances he did have in scoring roles this year, the results were average to mediocre at best.

But on the other hand, Tolvanen was 22 or 23 years old when all that was taking place. He was still developing as a young player and needed opportunities to play themselves through the highs and lows of a season. That’s something that, for whatever reason, Tolvanen didn’t have this season. Hynes kept an unusually tight leash on Tolvanen, sometimes going long stretches in games without a shift after a mistake, or being scratched after an uneventful one or two game stretch. That’s not conducive to helping a young player build confidence. It’s a situation the Preds have found themselves in with other players as well, namely Cody Glass and Phil Tomasino. Considering the current state of the Preds franchise, these are the players Nashville should be putting in prime situations for growth.

The other thing to keep in mind here; Tolvanen has only played five games with Seattle. That’s not enough to proclaim him either the next Tage Thompson OR the next Nail Yakupov. Tolvanen could very well become the “one that got away,” or he could just as easily wind up in the AHL this time next year. We have no idea. It may behoove us to wait and see how things play out before we fully judge this move.

In the meantime, it’s good to see Eeli Tolvanen get a chance to succeed, even if it’s not in Nashville.