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Tolvanen feels more prepared for full-time spot with Predators

Short stint in Nashville last season gave him better grasp of speed, physicality of NHL

by Robby Stanley / Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- Eeli Tolvanen has excelled at almost every level of hockey he's played.

The next step for one of the top Nashville Predators prospects is proving he can do it in the NHL starting at training camp in September.

The 19-year-old forward was selected in the first round (No. 30) of the 2017 NHL Draft. Playing for Jokerit last season, he set Kontinental Hockey League records for under-19 players with 19 goals and 36 points, surpassing the 17 goals and 32 points Evgeny Kuznetsov had in 2010-11.

Tolvanen also had six points (one goal, five assists) in six games for Finland at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, and led Finland with nine points (three goals, six assists) at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, making the all-star team.

He made his NHL debut against the Buffalo Sabres on March 31, and had three shots in three games.

Tolvanen said it didn't take him long to learn that he had to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NHL.

"It's way faster and it's more physical than the KHL was," Tolvanen said. "You just have to be ready every time you touch the puck. If you make a mistake, it's going to come back."

Video: Tolvanen is aiming to make Preds Opening Night roster

Though he did not have a point in his NHL stint, he grew more comfortable with the Predators and stayed with them until a seven-game loss to the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference Second Round. He was scratched for Nashville's 13 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs but gained valuable experience that can help him make the opening-night roster this season.

"I was used to playing back on Olympic ice and just to jump back here on the smaller ice, the first couple of games were really tough for me," he said during Predators development camp last month. "It was huge to get those first couple of games out of the way just to see the tempo and what the game was like back here. Now I know I have to get stronger, bigger and faster to be ready when training camp starts.

Video: Eeli Tolvanen scores as Team Gold wins 5-3

"I think I learned a lot from the older guys, just to try my best every day. When you go out there you have to have fun and just try your best. I think it's just easier for me to come back after the summer and know the team and coaching staff. It's going to be a lot easier."

The Predators arguably never have had a forward with such high expectations at an early age, but they believe Tolvanen is equipped to handle them.

"When you talk about a guy like that specifically, his play alone in the past year puts expectations on him," assistant general manager and director of scouting Jeff Kealty said. "But he's a high-end guy. I think he's up to the task."

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