Can Tolvanen, other young Predators make up for offseason losses?

James O'Brien
·6 min read

In a recent post well-worth your time, PHT’s Adam Gretz wondered if the Nashville Predators can reverse their recent downward trend. When pondering offensive struggles (along with departures of Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund), Gretz posited Nashville possibly signing someone like Anthony Duclair or Mike Hoffman. While those options are interesting, I also wonder if the Predators might find at least partial replacements by promoting from within.

To be more specific, maybe it’s time for the long-awaited Predators ascension of Eeli Tolvanen.

Big gambles haven’t always paid off

Year after year, the Predators took big swings by making trades for outside help. GM David Poile boldly gambled left and right, acquiring the likes of Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris, and Mikael Granlund.

As much as this offseason of losses might leave Predators fans squirming, can you really blame the franchise for sitting back?

Clearly, many of those gambles didn’t pay off. Some results are mixed (Johansen), some were disastrous (Turris), and others still must be determined (Duchene).

Perhaps, to some extent, the Predators fell victim to the fantasy hockey player’s curse of constantly tinkering. Rather than seeing the Tolvanens of the world develop, the Predators instead tried to upgrade with unfamiliar players.

Why Tolvanen may help Predators; why expectations should be grounded

While the economic realities of COVID-19 must have played a role in the Predators’ cost-consciousness, maybe Tolvanen can make a step? (The cupboard is otherwise a touch bare, although Luke Kunin could also help as another young talent, and Philip Tomasino is moderately intriguing.)

Ideally, Tolvanen’s development trend would be a steady upward line. Instead, it’s been more of a staccato rhythm, a stuttering of ups and downs.

Shortly after the Predators selected Tolvanen with the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, the sniping winger looked like a steal. Unfortunately, his game hasn’t translated to the North American ice sheet. Or maybe those early impressions led to over-hyped expectations?

So far, Tolvanen authored two 30+ point AHL seasons (35 points in 58 games in 2018-19, and 36 in 63 GP last season). Early on this season, Tolvanen isn’t exactly tearing up the KHL, either (two goals, 8 points in 14 GP).

That’s … all quite troubling.

But Tolvanen possesses something that’s still all-too-rare for the Predators: a lethal shot.

For an often-dreadful Predators power play, that could be a godsend. Crucially, though, Tolvanen will need to toe the line in other areas to get those fruitful opportunities.

With that in mind, it’s a promising sign that his AHL coach is talking up Tolvanen’s all-around play.
“If you watch him play at the end of our season last year, I think you’ll see a real growth in all areas of his game,” Milwaukee Admirals coach Karl Taylor said, via the Athletic’s Adam Vingan (sub required). “He was on the penalty kill. He was blocking shots for us. He was scoring. He was basically doing everything for our team that we could ask. You could tell maturity-wise, how he was carrying himself, that it was looking like it was time for him to get the opportunity that we’re perceiving that he’s going to get.”

Again, Tolvanen ranks as the Predators’ most interesting potential glow-up. But someone like Tomasino could make significant strides in 2020-21, too.

Predators face some soul-searching

Circling back to one of Gretz’s points, the Predators’ most likely way of replacing offense would be to add.

Honestly, the most enticing idea might be to roll with a bold offer sheet for the likes of Mathew Barzal, Anthony Cirelli, or even Mikhail Sergachev. (Vingan took a look at that idea recently for The Athletic.) After all, you want to get the most out of Roman Josi (already 30) and Ryan Ellis (turns 30 on Jan. 3), right?

But it’s fair to stick with the plan of doing nothing for two key reasons.

1. Frankly, the Predators don’t really know that they’re surefire contenders.

No doubt about it, Nashville took a step back in 2020-21. Duchene didn’t put the Predators over the top. Instead, the team stagnated.

It’s one thing to go for broke when you think you can win a Stanley Cup. You can’t push all of your chips to the center of the table if you have a mediocre hand, though.

(Poile doesn’t strike me as the greatest bluffer, at least.)

2. Stop using a Band-Aid

By acquiring Duchene, the Predators continued their revolving door approach. They moved on from the P.K. Subban era. Turris didn’t pan out, and Granlund didn’t boost them like they wanted to.

But maybe they weren’t putting together the right recipes with their ingredients? It’s a question worth examining after they fired Peter Laviolette.

For all that’s gone right for Nashville, it’s fair to wonder if their systems have always been optimized. Yes, you want to empower defensemen like Josi and Ellis. Yet, on the power play, is it really wisest to lean so heavily on point shots? This, again, is where Tolvanen can help, even if his all-around impact is modest.

That all comes down to Hynes getting more out of what’s now a lesser supporting cast. And that’s another area where the Predators prompt concern.

Yes, the Devils featured roster flaws. Considering their resounding lack of success, it’s baffling that Nashville almost broke a leg rushing to bring in Hynes. If the raw win-loss results weren’t troubling enough, Hynes’ isolated impact at Hockey Viz doesn’t inspire confidence, either.

John Hynes Hockey Viz Tolvanen Predators
John Hynes Hockey Viz Tolvanen Predators

Are the Predators better off being bad this season?

Considering all of the turmoil, maybe the Predators are better off essentially “hibernating” in 2020-21?

Ponder this scenario. Nashville takes a setback year, but gets a high-end pick out of it. Take a look at the Predators’ draft history, and you’ll see how rarely they’ve selected early first-rounders. They’ve never had a first overall pick.

Smart organizations make the most out of their situations. Still, over time, you can survive, but maybe not thrive without those premium picks. Perhaps the 2021 NHL Draft can serve as that moment when the Predators finally get some draft lottery love?

The dream is just that everything pans out in 2020-21. It’s certainly possible, with a still-new coach, especially since Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros could both enjoy bounce-back years. And maybe Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen can use negative feedback to fuel strong work.

But if the Predators take a step back, maybe it can just be a momentary stumble before a few more big pushes?

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Can Tolvanen, other young Predators make up for offseason losses? originally appeared on NBCSports.com