The United States Hockey League has taken off over the last few years and has become a viable option for top prospects looking to make an impression. In the past, it was mostly limited to American prospects, but during this surge in relevancy, top prospects from around the world see the USHL as a viable development opportunity.
By playing in the USHL, it allows the players to have the option of playing in the NCAA, which isn't something available to players in the Canadian Hockey League. This is extremely attractive development path and international players like top prospect Eeli Tolvanen are starting to taking advantage of it.
Prior to the 2015-16 season, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Finnish winger played all of his hockey in Finland, but moved to the Sioux City Musketeers in 2015-16 and then tore up the USHL this past season. He ended the year with 30 goals and 24 assists in 52 games for the Musketeers, then added 5 goals and 5 assists in 13 playoff games. Unfortunately, Sioux City lost in Game 5 of the USHL finals to the Chicago Steel.
He was named to the USHL First All Star Team this past year. He was named to the All-Rookie Team at the end of the 2015-16 season.
Tolvanen is a crafty little forward who has excellent top end speed and acceleration. The Vihti, Finland native is strong on his skates and isn't afraid to drive the net when he has a step on the opposing defence. He has a quick, accurate and hard release on his shot that he is able to use while in full stride. His ability to control the puck and move it with speed is what separates him from other prospects.
Most 18-year-old draft prospects will have to work on their defensive game as they progress up the ladder, but Tolvanen is already noticeably effective in his own zone. Reading the play and getting his stick into passing lanes, and then transitioning with the puck quickly. Like any draft eligible player, he will need to add strength, but that will come naturally as he gets older.
One thing that stands out about Tolvanen's game is that he shoots a lot. His 4.73 shots per game were first in the entire USHL by a sizeable margin. He never went a game without a shot on net and had 11 contests with 7 or more shots on goal, which included a game with 11 shots and another with 12 shots.
If you compare Tolvanen against the USHL draft eligible forwards, the difference between him and remainder of the class, it provides quite the contrast:
Tolvanen also had one of the lowest shooting percentage (12.2%) of that grouping, which is encouraging simply because his numbers aren't inflated by an unsustainable shooting percentage. If he continues the same volume of shots, he should continue to be as productive as he is now.
The left handed winger has been a mainstay for Finland throughout his junior career including the Under-16, Under-17, Ivan Hlinka and Under 18 World Championships. He also represented Suomi during the World Juniors this past winter. Although it didn't go quite as planned for Finland, as they narrowly avoided relegation, Tolvanen was productive with 2 goals and 4 assists in 6 games.
During the U18 tournament in April 2016, Tolvanen was a huge part of the offence that helped lead Finland to the gold medal. He ended that tournament with the most goals (7) and was named a Top 3 player on the team.
Video: Eeli Tolvanen - Prospect Profile
Tolvanen is committed to Boston College next year. Taking that next step to the NCAA will be a good development path for him, as he will face stiffer competition while attending one of the best collegiate hockey programs in the country.
Obviously Tolvanen is on the smaller side measuring in at 5-foot-10, but he does everything he can to be effective and dominant. He does everything he can to overcome that size, battling hard in the corners, coming out with the puck and attacking the net. His shooting rates are extremely encouraging and he just scores everywhere he goes. His ability to read the play and create plays with speed are something that will translate to the next level and each level going upwards.
If a team is looking for an effective goal scorer who plays with pace, they would be wise to look no further than Tolvanen.