Seattle Kraken’s Tolvanen Finally Reaching First-Round Potential

In a season that’s been defined by underwhelming performances across the board at both the individual and team levels, it’s important to celebrate the positives whenever possible. For the 10-14-8 Seattle Kraken, that means highlighting the play of breakout performers such as 24-year-old winger Eeli Tolvanen, who was claimed off of waivers from the Nashville Predators early on last season.

The Finnish forward – selected 30th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft – struggled to live up to his first-round potential in his first few seasons as a professional. From 2017-18 to 2019-20, Tolvanen only made seven total appearances with the Predators (two points), spending the entire 2019-20 campaign in the American Hockey League (AHL).

Tolvanen parlayed that extra seasoning into an 11-goal, 22-point season in 40 games with the Predators in 2020-21, suggesting that he was finally taking the leap expected of him given his draft stock. Instead, Tolvanen posted virtually the same stat line the following season while playing an additional 35 games, which frustrated Nashville’s top brass.

Related: The 2023-24 Seattle Kraken At The Quarter-Mark – Biggest Surprises And Disappointments

The underwhelming follow-up prompted rumors that he was on thin ice, and a slow start to the 2022-23 season (two goals in 13 games) led to the Predators finally cutting bait by placing Tolvanen on waivers where the Kraken claimed him.

The Kraken immediately put their new winger in a position to succeed, handing him career-highs in average ice time at five-on-five and on the power play. Tolvanen rewarded the team for its faith by potting 16 goals and 27 points in 48 regular-season games after being claimed, representing a 27-goal, 46-point pace over 82 games. He also added three goals and eight points in 14 playoff games as the team made a surprise appearance in the second round of the 2023 NHL Playoffs. 

The Kraken’s waiver claim has been a resounding success by almost every measure. Tolvanen has picked up right where he left off last season and has parlayed a more central role in improving numbers across the board.

Tolvanen Taking on Bigger Role with the Kraken in 2023-24

Tolvanen (now earning $1.45 million annually through this season) has slowly become a more integral part of the Kraken offense. Part of it is due to necessity, with veteran forwards Jaden Schwartz and Andre Burakovsky missing notable time this season. Still, he hasn’t disappointed when called upon, and head coach Dave Hakstol should continue to elevate Tolvanen’s role in the lineup whenever possible.

Tolvanen’s 13:02 minutes per game at five-on-five, 2:37 per night on the power play, and 16:09 average time on ice (ATOI) in all situations all represent new career highs. He ranks seventh among Kraken forwards in five-on-five ATOI, fifth in ATOI with the man-advantage, and eighth in all situations. That type of usage and deployment places him firmly within the top-nine forward group, with room to grow as he develops.

Related: 3 Key Seattle Kraken Players Struggling To Start 2023-24 – Will They Bounce Back?

Tolvanen’s eight goals and 20 points in 32 games this season (21-goal, 50-point pace over 82 games) are not just the product of greater usage. The winger is also producing more efficiently in his minutes and generating scoring chances for himself and his teammates at career-high rates.

Statistic (Per-60-Minutes at 5-on-5)Tolvanen 2023-24Kraken Rank (Forwards)
Shots6.627th
Expected Goals0.774th
Scoring Chances8.344th
High-Danger Chances3.63rd
Goals1.012nd
Assists1.015th
Points2.021st

Tolvanen has been one of the Kraken’s top offensive performers up front at five-on-five but remains a secondary option on the power play. The Kraken aren’t exactly loaded with elite scoring talent, so relegating one of your best shooters to the second unit isn’t a winning strategy. They rank 15th in the NHL with a 21.4% efficiency rate, but it’s difficult to believe that Tolvanen would not improve their conversion to some extent.

Beyond his scoring contributions, Tolvanen hasn’t been a defensive liability either. He owns positive on-ice shares of shots (53.1%), chances (54.2%), high-danger chances (57.5%), and expected goals (53.4%). For what it’s worth, the Kraken have outscored their opponents 19-17 when Tolvanen is on the ice at five-on-five, making him one of only five Kraken forwards to own a positive goal difference in that game state.

One area in which Tolvanen could stand to improve is in his discipline. Despite taking four minor penalties this season, the winger has yet to draw one of his own, giving him a minus-four differential on the year, which ranks last among all Kraken forwards (minimum 50 minutes played). That’s likely a key factor in the coaches not trusting Tolvanen in more difficult minutes, where he may be exposed against more crafty, skilled players.

Tolvanen Should Be A Leading Figure in Kraken’s Future

Regardless of how the rest of the 2023-24 season unfolds for the Kraken, I believe that they should pivot towards a rebuild, as it doesn’t appear that the team as constructed possesses the high-level talent required to win consistently in the NHL playoffs.

The NHL’s draft lottery system incentivizes losing and is currently the cheapest and easiest way to accrue elite talent in the league today. 

Seattle has had some luck in convincing veteran free agents to choose them on the open market, but several of those moves haven’t panned out as well as the organization would have hoped at the time of signing.

Instead, general manager Ron Francis should focus on growing an already admirable prospect pool and looking toward the future. Pulling the chute early could give the Kraken a leg up in the trade market with fewer sellers to compete with and increase the likelihood of getting respectable hauls for their trade assets.

Acquiring younger, promising players like Tolvanen – who is undervalued and looking for a fresh start – should be one of their primary avenues for roster construction. As the former first-round pick has shown, sometimes you just need to find some new scenery.

Data courtesy of Evolving HockeyNatural Stat Trick, and the NHL.

Avatar photo
About Marko Zlomislic 128 Articles
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science. When not covering the Seattle Kraken for Oregon Sports News, Marko can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood. You can yell at him by following him on Twitter or via email at mzlomislic97@gmail.com. He also regularly produces content for The Hockey Writers.