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Tolvanen Ready to Push for Spot on Opening Night Roster with Preds

Nashville Prospect is Leaner, Faster, More Confident Than Ever Before

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

It probably doesn't come as a shock that a 20-year-old professional hockey player would declare himself to be in the best shape of his life.

However, when Eeli Tolvanen revealed Thursday at Predators Rookie Camp that he lost some weight over the summer, it wasn't totally expected. After all, players at this stage of their career are usually in the business of bulking up in an effort to compete against the full-grown men patrolling the ice of the NHL.

But, for Tolvanen, who participated in his first full professional season of hockey in North America over the past 12 months, the summer training regimen was a welcome change.

Arguably Nashville's top prospect at the forward position, Tolvanen says he feels faster and better prepared for training camp than ever before.

Now, it's up to him to prove it.

"[I want to show] that I still have that scoring ability," Tolvanen said. "I kind of struggled a little bit last year, but just to show I'm ready. I've been working hard for it last year in Milwaukee and over the summer."

One of five players at Predators Rookie Camp who have NHL experience with the club, Tolvanen got four games of action with Nashville last season, including a game at Bridgestone Arena that saw him tally his first goal in a Gold jersey.

Video: Eeli Tolvanen ready to prove himself at camp

He recorded 15 more tallies while skating with the Milwaukee Admirals last season - the team he spent the majority of his time with over the past year - and finished with 35 points in 58 AHL games. He also won a gold medal with Finland at the World Junior Championship over the holidays.

The hype train was full steam ahead when Tolvanen arrived back in North America after the Predators selected him 30th overall in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft. After setting just about every KHL rookie scoring record with Jokerit that next season, Tolvanen inked his entry-level deal with Nashville, but his three games with the club in the spring of 2018 didn't yield any impressive results.

His four games with the Predators last season saw him add an assist to go along with that first NHL goal, but he didn't receive another call-up before the campaign was finished.

And while Tolvanen may believe he lost a bit of his scoring touch at times last season, Karl Taylor, his head coach in Milwaukee, doesn't necessarily buy it.

"You see him shoot a puck, the way he shoots the puck and it comes off his stick, there's a little extra pop and that's a hard thing to teach," Taylor said. "He has the ability, and there's no question to whether people believe in him or not, he just needs to bring it and bring it on a consistent manner."

Tolvanen has been disappointed in himself at times, but as he's matured on and off the ice, he's come to realize playing in the NHL is a process. Very few teenagers find instant success in the League, and the Predators don't plan on giving up on him anytime soon.

"Tolvy has come back in fantastic shape," Predators Director of Player Development and Milwaukee Admirals General Manager Scott Nichol said. "He's had a year under his belt in the AHL, and he's ready to challenge for a spot in Nashville. All indications point to him being very serious… I'm excited to see him go through the gauntlet of rookie camp and main camp. He's a year older, he knows what to expect and he should have a lot more confidence."

"Tolvy is a great kid, and he had a great season last year," Taylor said. "He really learned the game away from the puck, and that was something he had to focus on. I was really proud of how he focused on that. He ended up with 15 goals…and he probably hit 15 goal posts last year. It's insane how many times he rang it off the bar. But he's got an elite shot, he looks like he's in great shape and he's going to push for a spot, it seems."

That's exactly what Tolvanen plans on doing, too. He knows there are plenty of forwards Nashville could utilize this season at the NHL level - 15 of them are on one-way contracts to begin with - but if Tolvanen has anything to do with it, the final decisions for Predators coaches won't be easy.

"I mean, no one wants to play in the AHL, but for me, I just have to go in there, try to work my butt off and get back here," Tolvanen said. "Right now, my main focus is to be here for Opening Night."

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