Tolvanen

Eeli Tolvanen called his shot.

When the 22-year-old forward scored a tip-in goal in the Predators' 4-3 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, he said he believed it was just the kind of thing that could snowball into a hot streak.

He was exactly right as Tolvanen now has goals in three straight games — all via tip-in — and his game winner with 12 seconds left in Thursday’s 4-3 win over the New York Islanders at UBS Arena tied the Predators franchise record for second-latest go-ahead goal in team history.

“It’s of course nice to score goals,” Tolvanen said. “It doesn’t matter which way you’re doing it.”

Added Predators coach John Hynes: “I think what it really does is it gives him a little bit of energy. … He doesn’t press for things. But I think he’s a young guy that is a point producer and a scorer, so just mentally, it just freshens him up a little bit. But I do give him credit, I can’t really say he’s playing different or better now than when he wasn’t scoring, I think the one difference now is he’s found a different way to score than last year. Last year, he was shooting the puck straight into the net, now it’s obviously the tip goals. But I think he’s been very consistent in his mindset and his play, but it’s nice to see him get extra energy from scoring.”

Tolvanen scored the first goal of the Predators season in a 4-3 loss to the Seattle Kraken at Bridgestone Arena but went radio silent after that. He went 22 games between goals, and he had only mustered five points over that span.

But while Nashville’s fan base was discussing whether Tolvanen’s 11-goal, 22-point rookie season was a bit of a fluke, and having internal debates about if the former first-round pick really is a bust, the 5-foot-10 forward was patient.

The Tolvanen of two years ago probably would have gripped his stick a little too tight and tried willing a few goals into the net. Instead, he leaned on a skill he worked on and refined in the offseason.

“It’s nice to not only score goals by shooting,” Tolvanen stated. “But I think it’s a nice skill to have, that I can tip the goals in. That’s something I’ve practiced a lot during the summer and a lot in practice. I just need to keep doing the same thing.”

Even though he wasn’t consistently showing up on the score sheet, no one in the Predators’ locker room thought that Tolvanen needed to fix a thing. The fact that he wasn’t trying to do too much while he wasn’t producing goals, Hynes says, is a sign of the growth that Predators and Milwaukee Admirals coaches had been fine-tuning.

Tolvanen has been noticeable this year in all the areas away from the puck — forechecking, hitting, defensive responsibility and two-way defending. As Tolvanen’s game became more well rounded, so did the ways in which he could score.

“It’s good growth for him,” Hynes said. “It’s one when you’re trying to develop players and be threats in multiple ways. For him, he’s got such a great shot, so obviously, he’s used to scoring with his shot, but now, we’ve talked a lot about getting into some stacked screen areas and having our defensemen shoot in for tips. 

“The reason he’s a goal scorer — he does have the shot — but he has a knack to score. So, I think he’s done a better job, I guess maybe one of the improvements has been a better job of getting himself in for those tip situations and having his stick free. … If you want to be a goal scorer in this league, you have to do it multiple ways.”

The Predators, who currently sit in third place in the Central Division standings and are just one point out of second, have already been quite the overachievers this year. 

They’ve already benefited greatly from point-per-game or near-point-per-game performances from Mikael Granlund, Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi and Ryan Johansen, if Tolvanen settles into a groove, it may be hard to keep the Predators out of the playoffs.

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_