The Seattle Kraken added to their attacking ranks on Monday (December 12th), putting in a successful waiver claim for winger Eeli Tolvanen, a former first-round pick from the Nashville Predators. The Finnish forward was selected 30th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and has struggled to deliver on his draft pedigree thus far in his career.
Tolvanen represents a relatively inexpensive (owed $1.45 million through the 2023-24 season) option for the Kraken and, at only 23 years old, is just about to enter his prime years. Let’s dive into why this move makes sense for the organization and what Tolvanen can offer the team if all goes right in their new arrangement.
Tolvanen Has Mixed Scoring Results at Professional Level
Over 135 career NHL games, Tolvanen has accrued 51 points (25 goals and 26 assists), representing an 82-game pace of 15 goals and 15 assists. He’s also fared well during his American Hockey League (AHL) assignments, scoring 71 points (36 goals and 35 assists) in 121 games played across the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. Those aren’t eye-popping totals, but they’re indicative of a player capable of at least providing serviceable depth scoring in a more favorable environment.
Even so, he’s only tallied four points in 13 games this season and hasn’t played since November 19th against the Tampa Bay Lightning. When not being banished to the press box, Tolvanen has averaged just under 13 minutes a night in all situations. Since the start of the 2020-21 season, he’s played slightly over 11 minutes per game at 5v5, ranking 339th among forwards to play in at least 300 total 5v5 minutes in that time. However you present it, that’s hardly an ideal deployment for a player once highly touted for his offensive potential.
Regardless, a look under the hood at Tolvanen’s offensive rate stats show a player failing to produce much of anything, even when accounting for his meager ice time. The following are his per-60-minute stats at 5v5 compared to qualified forwards (minimum 300 minutes of 5v5 ice time since 2020-21).
|Statistic (Per-60-Minutes)||Tolvanen (2021-23)||Forward Rank|
If the top-nine forward threshold is roughly set at 288th or higher (nine times 32 NHL teams), Tolvanen’s production lags badly behind his peers. Although his sparse ice time shouldn’t be held against him, the lack of production given the quality of his frequent linemates is more worrisome in terms of future outlook.
Since the 2020-21 campaign, Tolvanen’s most common linemates at 5v5 have included Ryan Johansen, Roman Josi, Mikael Granlund, and Filip Forsberg. Tolvanen has been sheltered with favorable offensive zone deployment (where he starts his shifts) as well as being stapled to the Predators’ best offensive skaters.
There is always the potential for any caliber of prospect to bust, and it’s not as though Tolvanen was of the can’t-miss variety, especially as a borderline second-round pick. As many players have demonstrated over the years, a change in scenery can prove to be a boon for one’s development, especially if a team’s overarching strategy doesn’t mesh well with a player’s profile. Still, that Tolvanen has struggled to produce with his team’s top scorers alongside him doesn’t bode well for his offensive arc of development, at least at even strength.
Tolvanen Could Be a Difference-Maker on the Powerplay
Although Tolvanen’s production at 5v5 has yet to align with his prior reputation as a prospect, his play on the powerplay is much more flattering. Take a look at his numbers with the man advantage compared to other NHL forwards over the same 2021-23 timeframe:
|Statistic (Per-60-Minutes)||Tolvanen (2021-23)||Forward Rank (Minimum 100 powerplay minutes played)|
Among 287 qualified forwards, Tolvanen ranks in the upper half of the group in every category but expected goals, suggesting he does have utility in the right context. For all of their improved play at 5v5, the Kraken still struggle with carving out quality chances on the powerplay.
Don’t let the 23.9% conversion (12th in the NHL) fool you; the Kraken powerplay is riding a hot streak of finishing, scoring on 19.4% of their shots with the man advantage. That mark trails only the Edmonton Oilers and is significantly out of line with their underlying numbers.
The Kraken generate the fourth-fewest rate of shots and high-danger chances and the fewest rate of scoring chances in the NHL on the powerplay. Finishing talent is a real thing, and the best shooters can and often do outperform their expected totals, given that they can score from tighter angles and from further out, for example. The Kraken don’t have any players who have consistently done so at an elite level, so expecting that they will continue firing at such a high rate is foolish.
Now, that’s not to say Tolvanen can singlehandedly fix their issues on the powerplay since those are mostly structural, but he can give them an extra shot in the arm. His story isn’t all that dissimilar to that of Kraken winger Daniel Sprong, who has shown that the right environment can do wonders for a player’s development.
Tolvanen Boasts Underrated Defensive Profile
In something of a twist, Tolvanen has posted respectable possession numbers at 5v5 during his brief NHL tenure. As a result, he’s an underrated defensive forward, in direct contrast to his misguided one-dimensional reputation.
|Statistic (On-Ice Share at 5v5)||Tolvanen (2020-22)|
To be clear, Tolvanen isn’t significantly tilting the ice in his team’s favor at 5v5, but he’s generally found himself on the positive side of the possession ledger more often than not. His early results in 2022-23 are a stark departure from his first three NHL campaigns, where he’s clipping at a mid-40% rate within the aforementioned categories.
Whether that’s due to inherent defensive flaws or frustration and confusion over his role, those numbers are less than ideal. Still, the greater sample of over 1300 minutes at 5v5 prior to this season should take precedence over a minor 13-game sample in which variance could be a significant underlying factor.
Tolvanen Is Flawed but Worth the Risk
The trajectory of Tolvanen’s early NHL career hasn’t matched the hype associated with him since being considered a draft-day steal for the Predators. His scoring totals at the AHL provide hope, but that hope has yet to be parlayed into tangible results at the NHL level. Truthfully, that offensive potential may never manifest, but the young forward can still be a serviceable depth forward with the ability to provide surplus value on the powerplay.
At under $1.5 million, there are worse ways to spend your financial capital than make a low-risk, high-reward gamble on a player once thought of as a future top-six scorer.