Fresh start with Kraken is exactly what Eeli Tolvanen needs


A total of 22 NHL teams elected to pass on Eeli Tolvanen. Seriously.

It was a surprise to many that teams lower than the Seattle Kraken in the waiver priority didn’t bother to put a claim in for him. Despite a tough season in Nashville, there are still many who believe Tolvanen’s career can be salvaged, and given he’s signed until 2024 with a $1.45 million cap hit, it seemed like a no-brainer.

So, congrats Seattle.

It wasn’t that long ago that Tolvanen was seen as one of the top prospects in the game. In 2017-18, he was a two-time KHL Rookie of the Month, led all KHL rookies in scoring en route to an All-Star appearance, was an Olympic All-Star and was a point-per-game player at every international level. He failed to make the Predators full time in 2018-19, instead spending most of the season with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. That was seen somewhat as a setback, but hopes were still high – only for him to return to the AHL in 2019-20.

Tolvanen finally made the Predators in 2020-21 after starting the season in the KHL with Jokerit and had mixed results – even his KHL output was far from what most expected. He’s been a full-time NHLer ever since, with this season feeling like the year in which the 23-year-old would finally become an impactful top-six player. Well, here we are. Tolvanen had just four points in 13 games with the Predators, and the team elected to give him up.

If there’s any team on which a reclamation project can thrive, it’s Seattle, the NHL’s newest franchise. The Kraken have emerged as a real threat in the Pacific Division, sitting second behind the Vegas Golden Knights a year after finishing far outside the playoff race. Andre Burakovsky leads the team with 27 points in as many games, while rookie Matty Beniers and veteran Jordan Eberle have both cracked the 30-point barrier. Nobody has really popped off this year, but it’s been an excellent place for players needing a change of scenery – many through the 2021 expansion draft – to steal the spotlight like so many did in Vegas back in 2017-18.

It didn’t work out for Tolvanen in Nashville, and change was inevitable and needed. He has an incredible shot when he gets into scoring position, especially on the power play, and he has great hands to boot. Tolvanen’s lack of size means he gets pushed around a lot, but you’re mostly looking for offense out of him. That didn’t happen with the Predators, and the team needed to shake things up anyways. Playing in a winning atmosphere in Seattle’s early days could be fruitful.

Anytime a notable name lands on waivers, it’s normal for fans to overvalue him with his new team. Tolvanen wasn’t given up by Nashville because he was having a wicked-good season. On a team looking for someone to step forward and take control, Tolvanen failed, time after time. The effort wasn’t always there. All the promise he once had seemed to evaporate, but the Kraken boast a forward group full of opportunity, looking for someone to help lead this team to a bright future. It’s also a group that’s been thriving, so you don’t want to mess with the chemistry too much. That’s why him ending up in Seattle – a team with deep winger depth – was a bit surprising.

Personally, I think he’d be an excellent fit alongside Beniers. The 20-year-old star rookie has been one of the best players for Seattle from the start and is equally good as a shooter and a passer. He’s the type of skilled player whom Tolvanen can thrive with, but he has to put the effort in to prove he’s an everyday producer on this squad.

Tolvanen was sent down so quickly in his time in Nashville and went from being one of the top young players in the KHL to riding buses in the AHL. Then, when he finally became a full-time NHLer, he struggled to mesh with the group and eventually became the odd man out. He was a player scouts were concerned about if he wasn’t used in a scoring role, so once the scoring falls flat, and you don’t have the skating or compete level to make yourself more useful, those opportunities disappear.

A lot of my belief in him is banking on him rediscovering the same offensive prowess that made him so good nearly half a decade ago, but he still managed to show that skill in spurts. Maybe all it takes is a different logo on his chest to allow him to reset, refocus and find that talent again. I feel like he’s an early goal away from having everything click and getting that confidence he’s been missing for so long come back.

But he has to earn that opportunity. The Kraken have a good group this year. There are no gimmies here. He’s easily expendable. He’s a free asset that Seattle can benefit from, but the Kraken are in a spot where, if things don’t work out, they can easily move on from him. The onus is on Tolvanen to prove he can be a difference-maker in the NHL.

And I believe it’s possible.

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