Eeli Tolvanen didn’t get on the scoresheet once during any of the Nashville Predators’ six preseason games, and head coach John Hynes is perfectly fine with that.
It wasn’t that Tolvanen, known for his deadly wrist shot and power play prowess, had lost his scoring touch. No, it appears that the 22-year-old was refining another part of his game – his defense — and continuing his development into the well-rounded forward the Predators need him to be.
“[Tolvanen] is a very good two-way player,” Hynes said. “He doesn’t have many points or goals in the preseason, but his game is in good shape. Now it’s just got continue on into the regular season.”
Until now, Tolvanen had only played in one area of special teams — the power play, an area in which he exceled.
But in three of the four preseason games he played in, Tolvanen spent time on the penalty kill in three of them – an area he didn’t play once last year. He also showed off a sharpened defensive skillset that just seemed to be missing at the end of last season.
During Nashville’s preseason finale against the Carolina Hurricanes, Tolvanen spent 1:39 on the PK – a career-high – and he displayed the kind of forechecking ability the Predators typically expect from players like Tanner Jeannot or Yakov Trenin.
Tolvanen finished the preseason with 10 hits and a blocked shot — including seven hits against the Florida Panthers — 3:13 on the penalty kill, and 7:21 on the power play.
“I think when you look at him in general, I refer to his game a lot as it has substance to it,” Hynes continued. “We can see the goals and some of the plays that he makes offensively – those things are natural for him, and he has that ability. But sometimes the offensive stuff you can’t control as much. But I think when you look at how he’s matured as a player physically — I’d say over the past year, particularly in the offseason — he’s come back into camp today, he’s got a lot of substance to his game.”
While it’s now known where Tolvanen will play in the Predators’ lineup just yet, it’s a safe bet to be somewhere in the top six. The former first-round pick bounced around Nashville’s depth chart last season, but playing a more sound game in the defensive end is a good way to find favor with Hynes and the rest of the coaching staff.
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