Just three weeks ago, the Nashville Predators were one of the worst offensive teams in the National Hockey League.
Averaging 2.33 goals per game, the Predators were treading water near the bottom of the Central Division and battling the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars for the higher draft pick in July’s draft.
Now, one eight-game road trip and one five-game win streak later, the Predators occupy the fourth playoff spot in the Central with 20 games left, and nearly half those games against teams below them in the standings.
Since March 7, Nashville has had the 13th-best offense (2.75 goals per game) in the league and the eighth-best power play (23.3 percent). Fifteen different players scored a goal during that stretch, including multi-goal contributions from seven players.
Leading the charge, so to speak, is rookie forward Eeli Tolvanen. The 21-year-old has been Nashville’s best offensive player during the recent hot streak that yielded eight wins in the past 12 games.
In those 12 games, Tolvanen has four goals and a team-high 11 points, including two power play goals and five power play points – both lead the team in that span. He’s also tied for the ninth-most points in the NHL since March 7.
“I think the coaching staff has been doing a really good job with me,” Tolvanen said. “I mean, being out of the lineup in the first couple games and now being a regular lately, getting power play time and getting first-line minutes, I think they showed me some clips (of what) I need to improve and just kind of gave me the freedom too to play with players like (Forsberg, Arvidsson and Johansen) and to play my game as well.”
Since moving into a top-six role, specifically playing on the top line, Tolvanen has thrived. He’s riding a career-best five-game point streak that began with his first career three-point game against Dallas.
Tolvanen sat out the first eight games of the season, but after being inserted into the lineup on Feb. 1, his 16 points are the third-most on the team behind Forsberg (23) and Roman Josi (17), and his eight goals rank second behind only Calle Jarnkrok.
“It’s easier to play right now when you’ve played more games and get more ice time,” Tolvanen said. “To be in the lineup every night, I think that’s big for me to be able to work hard and go to battle with those guys every night. So, I think that’s the biggest key for me. I just feel more comfortable in the locker room, and I think that’s a big part too -- when you can be yourself in the locker room.”
Scoring at a near point-per-game clips (0.92) over the last three weeks, Tolvanen has stepped into the sniper role that scouts raved about in his draft year. Known as a power play ace, Tolvanen has sharpened his even-strength game as well. Of his last 11 points, six have come during 5-on-5 play.
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