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Confidence Growing Between Preds, Tolvanen as Season Continues

Predators Forward Scored First Power-Play Goal Tuesday Night in Detroit, Another Step in Journey to Become Full-Time NHL Player

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

The Predators didn't need Eeli Tolvanen's power-play goal to win on Tuesday night in Detroit.

Filip Forsberg's tally on the man advantage, coupled with Pekka Rinne's 24-save shutout, technically gave Nashville enough, before Tolvanen's marker provided some insurance on the evening.

But, in a way, the Preds have been waiting for a Tolvanen goal like that for more than three years.

The organization always believed he would deliver one day, and when the 21-year-old winger received a dazzling Forsberg dish at 9:57 of the third period - one mustachioed man to another - Tolvanen showed exactly what he is capable of from the left circle in the perfect setting.

Tolvanen didn't take long - half a second, maybe - to snap home a shot with a release that simply cannot be taught. That strike wasn't his first in the NHL - he's got three goals in 16 career games in parts of three seasons - but it was his first with the man advantage, on the top unit, no less, a trend the Preds hope will continue.

"He's done a good job on the power play, he's got good instincts on it and he really understands it," Preds Head Coach John Hynes said of Tolvanen. "He's been a very good power-play player at every level he's played, and we like the way that unit has looked. You saw his ability to get the shot off so quick in a seam pass, with no stick handle, and it's on and off his tape and into the net. He's a young guy getting more and more comfortable, but he certainly has earned and has shown the promise on the power play to be able to play on that unit."

Video: NSH@DET: Tolvanen buries one-timer for PPG

While his shooting ability simply comes from natural talent, there are plenty of other things Tolvanen has learned since the Predators selected him with the 30th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

The Preds were already enthusiastic when the young Finn was still available late in the first round back then, and the hype grew when Tolvanen set KHL records for goals (19) and assists (17) in a season by a teenager when he played for Jokerit during the 2017-18 campaign.

In the midst of that stellar season, Tolvanen competed for Finland in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and had nine points (3g-6a) in five games. In addition to outscoring notable names such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, he posted the second-highest point total by an under-19 player in Olympic history.

He played three games for the Preds during the spring of 2018 - less than a year after Nashville drafted him - but Tolvanen's transition on this side of the Atlantic Ocean needed time to develop.

Tolvanen's first full season with the Milwaukee Admirals came in 2018-19 with 15 goals and 35 points to his name. He also scored his first NHL goal in four more games with the Preds, and in 2019-20 with the Ads, Tolvanen became a 20-goal scorer - 21 to be exact - in his best professional season yet.

The Predators remained high on their prospect, and the organization was hopeful he would be ready to prove he belonged on the NHL roster in 2021. With a power-play goal like he scored on Tuesday, staying in the lineup shouldn't be a problem.

"He's on our unit, so I know if I can just try to find him through that seam, it'll be in the back of the net, there's almost a guarantee on that," Forsberg said of Tolvanen. "He definitely needs to shoot it more, and I think he's been playing well. He's been working really hard, I think he's been way more physical than I thought he could be - he's actually pretty strong, he doesn't look that big, but he's a strong boy - and he's got an elite shot and obviously proved it on that shot."

Video: Rinne, Forsberg, Tolvanen lead Preds to 2-0 victory

As most hockey players would be, Tolvanen was subdued in his media availability following Tuesday's contest, but his smile following the goal, and the way he spoke postgame, gave him away as a player who looks and sounds more comfortable and confident at this level than he's ever been before.

"We played really well [Tuesday], and I think it's a good sign that you get more ice time and get a chance to play in a first power play with those guys," Tolvanen said. "We showed [what we can do when] we scored two goals, and I think we just have to build on that, just to keep working and get more ice time."

Just about every player on the Predators roster - Tolvanen included - can be better as the group looks to fight their way back into the thick of the Central Division standings, and they'll need contributions from the young Finn if that hope is to become a reality.

Even so, seeing a power-play goal from Tolvanen, a play that so many knew he was capable of producing come to fruition, was certainly satisfying.

And just as the Predators never stopped believing Tolvanen's time in the NHL would come, they also trust this is just the beginning of goals the group will need in the months ahead.

"He's done a nice job, so hopefully this gives him a little bit [of confidence] and he feels good about himself as he continues to move forward," Hynes said. "Hopefully his game continues to grow. We've liked what we've seen so far - 5-on-5 and on the powerplay - so hopefully he continues to do a good job."

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