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Eeli Tolvanen and the History of Preds “That Got Away”

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Eeli Tolvanen and the History of Preds “That Got Away”

If you’ve watched the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you might have spent some time hate-watching the Seattle Kraken’s run to the second round. That’s because Eeli Tolvanen just happened to be a big part of the Kraken’s success this season, forcing Preds fans to fight the urge to yeet their remotes at the TV.

Tolvanen’s exit from Nashville and subsequent development into an impact player in Seattle is one of the biggest sore spots in the Predators’ fanbase. But Tolvanen isn’t the first former Pred to find a new level of success immediately after leaving town. It fact, it’s happened quite often.

Some were jettisoned with little to no fanfare. Others were shipped away as pieces in a larger puzzle. But regardless of how they left, these former Pred players could be considered “the ones that got away.”

Eeli Tolvanen

Drafted by Predators 30th overall in 2017; Claimed by Kraken off waivers in December 2022.

What can you say about the Tolvanen situation that hasn’t already been shouted into the void here in Smashville? An impressive run of play after his draft year, including a 9-point performance at the 2018 Olympics, made the Preds’ 2018 first-rounder one of the most-hyped prospects in team history. And after an impressive rookie season that saw him net 22 points in 40 games despite limited playing time, it seemed nothing would derail the hype.

But Tolvanen couldn’t quite cement a consistent scoring role in the Preds’ lineup. Was it because he was being used in a wrong role? Was it because the Preds weren’t happy with his development? Was it some fault on Tolvy’s end? That’s fodder for a lifetime’s worth of debate. But whatever reason, the Preds made the move to send Tolvanen to Milwaukee for more seasoning.

Of course, he never made it to the Ads. The Seattle Kraken picked up the former first rounder off waivers, and the rest is history. His half-season in Seattle alone yielded career-highs in goals and points, and finished his postseason with 8 points in 14 games.

Andrew Brunette

Selected by Predators in 1998 Expansion Draft; Traded to Thrashers in June 1999

Long before he landed on Preds fans’ wishlist of coaching candidates that they happen to have pinned on Twitter “just in case… wink wink,” Andrew Brunette moseyed his way into Predators’ folklore as a member of the inaugural team. He has the distinction of scoring the first goal in franchise history. And despite being buried in the middle six on a very, very bad team, Brunette managed to rack up a respectable 11 goals and 31 points in the Preds’ first season.

However, the Preds didn’t see Brunette as a long-term piece, and shipped him to the newly-created Atlanta Thrashers (#NeverForget) for a draft pick that – bonus fun fact – Nashville would use to select Matt Hendricks. Turns out, David Poile and company whiffed on Brunette’s potential. The forward had an immediate impact in Atlanta, scoring 50-plus points in both seasons in Blueland. Brunette then moved to Minnesota, where he landed in NHL lore by scoring the Game 7 goal that knocked the Colorado Avalanche Super-Team out of the postseason. He went on to have a 1,100-game career in the NHL as a reliable depth scorer who routinely topped the 50-point mark. Given the Predators history of lacking high-end scorers, keeping Brunette would have helped.

Greg de Vries

Acquired by Predators via trade in October 1998; Traded to Avalanche ALSO in October 1998.

On the off-chance you watched the Predators between 2007 and 2009, yes, this is THAT Greg de Vries. But do you remember that the depth defender had a less-than-one-month stint with the Predators way back during their inaugural season? The Preds had landed him, Eric Fichaud, and Drake Berehowsky in a trade with the Oilers a week before their inaugural game. De Vries played in the first six games in team history before the Preds flipped him again, this time to Colorado for a 2nd round pick.

De Vries wound up developing into a mainstay on the blueline during the Avs’ “dynasty” era. He played more than 20 minutes a game during the Avs’ 2001 Stanley Cup-winning playoff run alongside two hall-of-famers in Ray Bourque and Rob Blake. While he mostly garnered a reputation as a stay-at-home defender, de Vries did display some scoring pop, hitting 32 points in 2003 and 35 points in 2006. After stints with the Rangers, Senators, and Thrashers, de Vries returned to Smashville for the final two years of his career in 2008 and 2009, but well after his peak. Although he did have some baller moments like these:

Scott Hartnell

Drafted by Predators 6th overall in 2000; Traded to Flyers in June 2007.

Unlike some other names on this list, Hartnell’s exit wasn’t the result of “roster mismanagement” or “giving up on a player;” it just happened to be the result of some bad timing.

Hartnell was just starting to hit his stride as a goal-scorer during the 2006 and 2007 seasons when the Jim Balsille saga happened. Hartnell was about to become a restricted free agent, and even though the Preds knew the then-25-year-old was on the precipice of his prime years, Poile had no choice but to trade him (and Captain Kimmo Timonen) to the Flyers after the 2007 season while the franchise sorted through their potential sale/relocation drama.

It didn’t take long for Hartnell to become a cult hero in Philly, who appreciated the former Preds’ first-rounder’s mix of grit and scoring touch. Hartnell spent seven seasons as one of the Flyers’ main wingers, scoring at least 20 goals in all but two of those years. His best year came in 2012, when he scored 37 goals and became — still, to date — the ONLY Predators-drafted forward to make an NHL All-Star Game. Hartnell did get a nice curtain call in Smashville, returning to the Preds for his final season in 2018 and providing some nice energy in the process.

Rich Peverley

Signed as undrafted free agent in 2007; claimed off waivers by Thrashers in January 2009.

Rich Peverley was the O.G. Tanner Jeannot; he started his career in the ECHL before earning a contract with the Milwaukee Admirals. After leading the Ads in scoring in 2007, the Preds took a chance and signed him to an NHL contract, and put him in the lineup for several critical games towards the end of that season. Despite solid performances in a bottom-six role, including appearing in all six playoff games for the Preds during the 2008 playoffs, Peverley could never earn a consistent spot in the lineup, and was placed on waivers midway through the 2009 season.

The Thrashers took a chance on Peverley which, like Andrew Brunette in Atlanta ten years prior, immediately paid dividends. Peverley scored 35 points in the remaining 38 games with Atlanta in the 2009 season, and followed up that performance with a 55-point season in 2010. The most notable stretch of his career would come the following season when he was traded to the Boston Bruins in — another bonus fun fact — the deal that sent Blake Wheeler to the Thrashers/Jets franchise. In Boston, Peverley became a mainstay in the Bruins bottom six during their Stanley Cup run in 2011, and played an important role once more when the Bruins competed for the Cup again in 2013.

Unfortunately, Peverley’s career ended in 2014 after suffering a cardiac event on the bench mid-game. As legend goes, just moments after paramedics needed to use a defibrillator to revive him, Peverley asked coaches if he could return to the game. Typical hockey player.

Devan Dubnyk

Acquired by Predators via trade with Oilers in January 2014; traded to Canadiens in March 2014.

Don’t worry, you’re definitely not the only one reading this while thinking “wait… Devan Dubnyk — THAT Devan Dubnyk — was a Nashville Predator???” The answer is “yes,” more specifically, “yes, and now you should immediately forget about that fact and never speak of this again.”

Dubnyk’s tenure in Nashville lasted a grand total of two games, and it could best be described as an unmitigated disaster. A former starter in Edmonton, the Preds brought Dubnyk in during the 2014 season to carry the goaltending load while Pekka Rinne was recovering from hip surgery. It took just two starts, in which Dubnyk let in a combined nine goals, for the Predators to go “yeah… nah” and insert Carter Hutton into the starting role instead. Whispers of a rift with the coaching staff didn’t exactly help Dubnyk’s case, and after a demotion to the Admirals, he was unceremoniously traded to Montreal once Rinne returned.

Safe to say his presence wasn’t missed by the team, but in terms of a post-Preds glow-up, very few had better than Dubnyk. His redemption tour started the next year in Arizona, then continued in Minnesota, where he earned a Vezina nomination thanks to a sweltering 27-9-2 run that featured six shutouts and a .935 save percentage. Dubnyk continued that momentum for the rest of the decade, becoming one of the best consistent goaltenders in the Western Conference, complete with three All-Star appearances. Would a better stint in Nashville have opened the door to an unstoppable Rinne-Dubnyk goaltending combo? Probably not, but it’s still fun to think about. Maybe.

Samuel Girard

Selected by Predators 47th overall in 2016; Traded to Avalanche in November 2017.

If you’re still a little steamed by this, you’re not alone. “Sammy G” looked poised to become the next up-and-coming Preds defensive star, making the team out of camp as a 19-year-old in 2017, just one year after being drafted. Despite only getting limited time, Girard impressed during his short stint in Nashville, getting three points in five games during the Preds’ first month of the season.

What happened next will forever live in Smashville infamy. The Preds shipped Girard to the Avalanche as part of the ill-fated Kyle Turris deal, and with the benefit of playing for (at the time) a weak Avs’ team, Girard got more playing time right away. He would eventually grow into a mainstay on the Cup-winning Avs’ blueline, providing a secondary punch behind Cale Makar and Devon Toews. Just this past season, Girard set career highs in goals, assists, and points. Considering the Preds were among the worst defensive teams in the NHL this past year AND struggled mightily with puck possession, this is a guy the Preds would probably love to have at their disposal right about now.

Kevin Fiala

Drafted by Predators 11th overall in 2014; Traded to Wild in February 2018.

Fiala appeared to be headed for big things in Smashville, thanks to a breakthrough performance in the 2017 playoffs (before a season-ending injury) that included an overtime winner in Game 3 against the Blackhawks and a 23-goal season as a 21-year-old in 2018. But Poile found himself in “win NOW” mode heading into the 2019 playoffs, and rather than waiting for Fiala to develop further, he decided to swap him for more immediate scoring help in Mikael Granlund.

It took Fiala a bit to find his stride, but he started to catch fire during the pandemic-shortened seasons, culminating with a career-best 85-point season in 2022. Fiala moved to Los Angeles last summer, and despite battling injuries, Fiala was able to reproduce his point-per-game scoring piece, cementing his status as a high-end scorer in the league.

The Granlund-Fiala debate is one that’s not going away anytime soon, especially considering where the Preds are as a franchise at the moment.

For more discussion on Eeli Tolvanen’s exit and other “Preds that got away,” check out Nick’s latest episode of the Locked On Predators podcast:

Sallis Realty Group Nashville, are you looking to buy, sell, or invest in real estate? Look no further than Sallis Realty Group! Salls is not just about property, they are about people. They build long-lasting relationships that are all about YOU, your needs, and your dreams. Sallis Realty Group stands for trust, transparency, and community and they are committed to making a positive impact in Middle Tennessee, one home at a time! Ready to make a move? Visit today and experience real estate the Sallis way!”

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