Players who can score at the drop of a hat are rare, and you can count Finnish sniper Eeli Tolvanen among them. You just don’t get a nickname like “The Finnish Tarasenko” without that kind of dynamism.
Tolvanen caught everyone’s attention last season with an electric performance as a 17-year-old at the U18 tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota, scoring nine points in seven games in a tournament where he often surrendered a year of development against his peers. His second season with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers ensured he never lost that attention, either. Tolvanen finished his campaign a USHL First-Team All-Star and was widely considered the best player in the entire league last season.
Most scouting services flirted with the notion Tolvanen as a top ten or top five pick for most of the season. One prominent analyst was even so bold as to suggest he had to talk himself out of Tolvanen as the first overall selection at one point! We at Canucks Army think highly of Tolvanen, but perhaps less highly than consensus. The Finnish Tarasenko, or so he’s called by some, checks in as our 15th ranked prospect in the Nation Network ranking.
- Age: 18-years-old, 1999-04-22
- Birthplace: Vihti, Finland
- Position: LW
- Handedness: L
- Height: 5’10″
- Weight: 181 lbs
- Draft Year Team: Sioux City Musketeers – USHL
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Simply put, Tolvanen has produced everywhere he has gone. In my opinion, he was the best player in the USHL this season, and he has looked very good in international play for Finland the past few seasons. Tolvanen is known mostly for his big-time shot, which makes him one of the more feared goal-scorers in this year’s class. However, he is more than a shooter. Tolvanen has great hands, can make difficult feeds and can play at a quick pace, though he is most comfortable when winding up his cannon. He’s small and not incredibly quick for a player his size (though I think his skating is adequate), but he’s smart enough to put himself in position to score and has a little physical edge to his game too. He’s committed to Boston College for 2017-18.
This goal-scoring winger is a real offensive threat…plays with speed, intensity and skills…elusive with the puck on his stick…likes to shoot and has an impressive accurate shot with an absolutely deadly release…positions himself correctly to be open for the one-timer…a smooth, agile skater and covers ground at high rates of speed in transition…quick thinker who doesn’t stop moving his feet…good speed when carrying the puck and can accelerate quickly…skilled stickhandler who protects the puck well…an underrated playmaking forward that is a dual threat in the offensive zone, although he does love to shoot…aware of defensive-zone puck movement and positions himself responsibly…hunter on the forecheck who looks to turn over pucks and quickly switch to offense…effective on the backcheck as he looks to break up scoring chances…does not avoid physical play, but does not initiate it either…will become a NHL goal-scorer and difference-maker.
He has plenty of speed, hockey sense and intensity to complement a solid skill set and NHL-caliber release. Tolvanen (5-10, 170), born in Finland, will attend Boston College in 2017-18. He leads Sioux City in goals (16), points (29), game-winning goals (four) and shots on goal (134) in 26 games.
There are some who believe Tolvanen is the best pure goal scorer from this year’s draft; everyone agrees that he belongs in the conversation. Tolvanen’s 30 goals in the USHL are the highest mark among first-time draft eligible forwards, and as Ryan Biech pointed out in his article about this same player, he did it without benefitting from an abnormally high shooting percentage. Given the quality of Tolvanen’s shot, one could reasonably argue his 12.2 Sh% indicates he falls on the lower end of the luck spectrum, even.
Without a doubt, Tolvanen’s best quality is his shot. He’s not shy about using it, either. Only New York Islanders first-rounder Kieffer Bellows has put the puck on net at a more prolific rate than Tolvanen among first-time draft eligible USHL skaters in the last few years. Tolvanen has a wicked quick release and a full arsenal of shots that he can let off at full-speed without issue.
And when Tolvanen gets going, he’s hard to stop. Don’t let anyone convince you he isn’t a strong skater. Tolvanen has an excellent first two-steps, and his top gear is right up there too.
Tolvanen knows how to use his speed, and that’s not always the case with burners at this age. He changes up gears when he attacks through the neutral zone, which can often force defenders on their heels if he hasn’t sped past them entirely. His edgework is excellent, and he uses it to tow the line effectively in the offensive zone. That stuck out most on the Musketeers power play, where Tolvanen was very efficient from the perimeter.
When Tolvanen decides that he wants to play, his skill set is unreal. It’s just that he doesn’t look entirely engaged in the game for periods at a time. When the puck is in his zone, he just checks out.
Tolvanen is a one-dimensional player in every sense of the word. On the one hand, the one dimension to his game is immensely valuable — he scores goals, and in bunches. On the other, he’s a poor distributor who hasn’t even the slightest inclination towards the defensive zone. Often I’d watch Musketeers games where the puck was in their zone, and I literally couldn’t find Tolvanen — he’d already blown the zone, whether his team had possession or otherwise.
Another concerning element to Tolvanen’s game is the extent to which he relied on power play scoring to buoy his counting stats. When you compare Tolvanen to other first-time draft eligible forwards by five-on-five scoring rates, he looks far less exceptional.
For added context, we should also consider that Tolvanen played on a powerhouse team that made it all the way to the USHL Finals, before bowing out to the Chicago Steel in five games. Tolvanen was an integral part of that success, obviously. It’s just information to consider and use accordingly when one weighs Tolvanen’s scoring against other first-time draft eligible forwards. There’s also the fact that the USHL, while on the rise, is a lower level of competition than most Canadian major junior leagues.
When we look at Tolvanen’s last season through the lens of pGPS, he carries an Expected Success rate of 26.2%. The Expected Production rate from members of his cohort per 82 game season is 56.2, which is downright prolific and more than good enough to qualify as an NHL first line forward. Tolvanen’s pGPS Career Assignment is that of a second line forward.
I’ve some very real concerns about how good Tolvanen is. I think that the draft analysis communtiy at large has significantly overrated Tolvanen, and his rankings reflect as much. Hell, I even think we have him a bit high for my tastes.
That shouldn’t take away from Tolvanen’s skill set and how well it could potentially lend itself to his developing into a high-end first line forward. The Finnish Tarasenko seems like a stretch, but I wouldn’t rule out his becoming a dynamic first line forward who can create offence out of seemingly nothing.