NASHVILLE -- Eeli Tolvanen may soon become a mainstay for the Nashville Predators in their top six forwards. A crowded roster could make that unlikely this season, but the 20-year-old is undeterred.
"It's just motivation to be here," Tolvanen said during Predators development camp in June. "Everybody wants to be here. Everybody wants to play in the NHL, so I think that's the same thing for me. I want to get here as quick as I can, and I'm willing to put in the work."
Selected with the No. 30 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, Tolvanen arguably is Nashville's top prospect. He had 36 points (19 goals, 17 assists) in 49 games with Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League in 2017-18 to break KHL records for points and goals by a player younger than 20. He played the majority of last season with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League, when he had 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists) in 58 games and thought it was an important step in his pursuit to become a full-time NHL player.
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"I think that was a big year for me, for sure, playing pro in the [United States]," said Tolvanen, who has two points (one goal, one assist) in seven games with the Predators the past two seasons. "The AHL is not an easy league. In Milwaukee we played the same systems as here in Nashville, so it was kind of an easy jump when I got called up. I think that was the biggest thing, just the physicality and how high the tempo is up here. Just those things, I think, helped me a lot, and my defensive game grew a lot in Milwaukee."
The Predators knew how gifted Tolvanen was offensively when they drafted him, but his game away from the puck will be an area of emphasis. Last season, he focused on winning puck battles along the boards, making sure he's in the right places defensively and learning how to get his shot off in tight spaces.
"We worked with the coaches and with the assistant coaches a lot after practice sometimes, and then just the video," Tolvanen said. "We did lots of that."
Video: CHI@NSH: Tolvanen nets Smith's feed for first goal
Tolvanen's small taste of the NHL left him wanting more.
"Just getting a couple of games last year, it's a way different league and a way different world being here than in Milwaukee," Tolvanen said. "That's the league I want to play [in]."