Following an impressive showing at the IIHF World Junior Championship, where he notched six points in five games, Nashville Predators’ prospect Eeli Tolvanen made KHL history in his first game back from the tournament.
Just 54 seconds into the first period of Jokerit’s 3-0 win over Traktor Chelyabinsk on Jan. 9, Tolvanen notched an assist on Brian O’Neil’s goal, breaking Evgeni Kuznetzov’s KHL scoring record for an 18-year-old.
The 5-foot-10 Finn now has 33 points in just 40 games; Kuznetzov had 32 points in 44 games in 2010-11. Tolvanen’s 17 goals are tied for seventh most in the KHL this season.
Tolvanen, the Preds first-round selection in 2016, has already been named a starter for the KHL All-Star game, won the KHL Rookie of the Week six times and the Rookie of the Month twice.
With Nashville assistant general manager Paul Fenton recently telling NHL.com that the Preds would entertain the idea of bringing Tolvanen over after his KHL season ends, there is a possibility the record-setting forward could see some playing time with Nashville in the playoffs. However, nothing is written in stone yet.
“I do not think it makes any sense to think about it,” Tolvanen recently told reporters. “There are a lot of games and events even before the season is over. You have to concentrate on being here.”
The KHL regular season ends March 1, however, the postseason could run from mid-to-late April. Jokerit has already qualified for the playoffs, which begin on March 3. Jokerit has never gotten past the second round of the playoffs in the team’s history, so a short-lived playoff run could potentially bring Tolvanen stateside sooner than later.
“Let’s see how far this is going and what’s going on here,” Tolvanen said. “After the season, what the feeling is. I’m still healthy and I’m 100 percent okay. Then you can see what after the season.”
Tolvanen, the Predators 2017 first-round selection, is signed to a one-year deal in the KHL with a player option for a second year. Should Tolvanen decide to join Nashville after the conclusion of his season, he will have to sign a three-year, entry-level contract with the Preds.
“Yes, of course, some (NHL contract negotiations) are all still ahead,” Tolvanen said. “(It’s) unnecessary to think about. The less you think, the better.”
The potential addition of Tolvanen could affect any moves general manager David Poile could make at the February trade deadline. Tolvanen already feels that he is ready to make the jump to North America, crediting playing against the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk with preparing him for the NHL.
Now, the question on everyone’s minds is just how soon will we see Eeli Tolvanen in a Nashville Predators jersey?
“I think that Tolvanen will have to be a sooner than later call-up in the National Hockey League,” USHL scout Jake VanBesien told Penalty Box Radio back in October. “I’m not sure that there is any question that his offensive skill set is ready for the NHL.”