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Eeli Tolvanen knows his patience will pay off with Predators

Production has been slow to come for the Predators' vaunted prospect. But neither he nor team is worried.

Eeli Tolvanen has two older brothers, so he knows how to wait his turn.

A year ago at this time, the 30th overall pick in 2017 looked to be on the fast track to stardom with Nashville. His record-setting season in the KHL was underway and fuelled the hype train in Music City.

The 2018-19 season has turned into a detour, surprising to some but absolutely necessary in the collective mind of Predators management. His three-game stint with Nashville at the end of last season produced no highlights (zero points, three shots on goal) and relegated him to nothing more than a practice player during the post-season. “The coaching staff told me that I have to get bigger, stronger, faster to make the next step and play in the NHL,” he said.

Tolvanen was assigned to AHL Milwaukee before the end of training camp in September, and there he has remained even as injuries and Austin Watson’s suspension forced multiple roster moves involving forwards.

If he is in a hurry to get out of there, he hasn’t shown it. “His attitude has been unbelievable,” said Scott Nichol, the Predators’ director of player development and Milwaukee’s GM. “He’s gone down there. He’s embraced it. He’s got his own apartment. He lives on his own. His girlfriend has been there. He’s really enjoying himself. He always comes to the rink with a smile on his face.”

Last season, no matter where Tolvanen played – the KHL, the world juniors, the Olympics, the World Championship – he produced. In Milwaukee, the points have not come as easily. Through the first quarter of the season he averaged about one goal every five games. “He’s getting the chances, and he’s working for the chances,” Nichol said. “That’s basically what we want him to do.”

Another dominating performance at this year’s WJC would serve his development well. Regardless, few, if any, doubt that Tolvanen eventually will get his opportunity in the NHL. Perspective on the pursuit of that goal is readily apparent with his brothers. One, Joona, is a 26-year-old undrafted defenseman who had played his entire career in Finland before leaving to play in Poland this season. The other, Atte, is a senior goalie at Northern Michigan who also was never drafted. “He leans on them quite a bit,” Nichol said. “His brothers talk to him, and he’s got a really level head. He knows what’s right and the process and the path that a lot of our guys go through.”

This story appears in the January 28, 2019 of The Hockey News magazine.

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