Eeli Tolvanen has been a great find and perfect fit for Kraken

Mar 15, 2023, 11:02 AM

Seattle Kraken Eeli Tolvanen...

Eeli Tolvanen of the Seattle Kraken reacts after his goal against the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 25, 2023. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Kraken did not have a good weekend. They played a two-game set at home Saturday and Monday against the Dallas Stars and lost them both. Monday’s game saw Seattle with a couple of moments where it could have grabbed momentum. Trailing 3-1 in the second period, the Kraken cut the lead to one after Eeli Tolvanen deftly redirected a Vince Dunn shot in for a goal.

It was a big moment that was soon dashed by the Stars scoring on the very next shift. But for Tolvanen, it was another goal and another big play the 22 year old has made since being claimed off waivers from Nashville by Seattle back in December.

The Kraken being able to pick up a player of his quality was a surprise to NHL watchers, and to Tolvanen.

“It’s kind of a shock,” Tolvanen said. “You never want to go on waivers, means you’re doing something wrong or you’re not producing. I look at it as things didn’t go as planned, and I was kind of really happy about the fresh start, getting a new city, new team, new guys, a new coaching staff, off to new organization. I was really excited to come here and, you know, it was the best stuff for me and I’ve been happy every second.”

“Shock” is one way to put it.

Nashville made Tolvanen a first-round pick during the 2017 NHL Draft when they took him 30th overall. After he bounced between the NHL and American Hockey League, he started getting more time in the NHL and became a regular during the 2020-21 season. He potted 11 goals in each of the past two seasons, and it looked like the Predators had a player on their hands.

Before being placed on waivers, the 5-foot-10, 191-pounder had appeared in 13 games with a pair of goals and assists for the Predators. Nashville had some injuries and salary cap issues, though, so it placed Tolvanen on waivers, hoping that with his salary ($1.45 million this season, per Spotrac) they could sneak him through and get him to their AHL franchise.

“When I got the got the call that I got put on waivers, you’re really (ticked),” Tolvanen said. “You feel like life’s not worth it, you know? It’s just miserable for that couple first hours, but then after a couple of hours just looking at positive things, hopefully getting picked up by somebody.”

Seattle had cap room for him an couldn’t pass up a guy who has the offensive acumen of Tolvanen.

He admits that he didn’t know any of the players or the city when he arrived on Dec. 12, but he also says that everyone on the roster has been welcoming. The Finnish forward was excited to join the team, especially with the number of Europeans on the roster.

“I feel like if you’re from Finland and Sweden, even around Europe, everybody knows that English is not your first language,” he said. “… Especially with the Finnish (Joonas) Donskoi here, you know, it’s always nice to talk Finnish and anything I needed, I just asked him.”

Donskoi has been dealing with an upper-body injury and hasn’t played all season but has remained with the team.

When Tolvanen first arrived in Seattle, coach Dave Hakstol delayed playing him in a game. He practiced with the team daily but would be a healthy scratch for each game over the first couple of weeks. That may feel like a negative, but Tolvanen said it actually helped.

“(I got) comfortable with the system and got back into game shape,” he said. “It was a point I hadn’t played in a month so I think it was really helpful for me to just skate a lot and get touches and just get comfortable with the guys and around the city. And ever since I got the call to play, I felt 100% right away.”

He got that call for a New Year’s Day game against the New York Islanders and made an immediate impact. He scored a big goal that day, blasting a shot from the faceoff circle.

Tolavanen has continued to have an impact. He’s played 33 games with the Kraken and has scored 12 times to go with 10 assists. Overall, he’s set career-highs in goals and points – he’s one assist away from a new personal best, as well.

Hakstol has made him an everyday player.

“He’s just a good hockey player,” Hakstol said after a 3-1 Kraken win over Columbus last month. “He does way more than score. He’s a guy that you see his hockey sense. He’s got some defensive DNA to him. He understands the game, where to be. He’s one of those guys that finds the shooting lane defensively, and he’s got a good stick. He’s got some toughness to him.”

Tolvanen admits that he’s had to put in work to improve defensively and play an all-around game.

“I wasn’t producing at all,” he said. “I somehow had to make the lineup, and that was the defensive game plan and the physical game. Big step last year, playing more (of a) defensive role… playing the game right away. So I think that helped me a lot, too.”

He has proved to be a valuable find for the Kraken. He came as advertised, armed with a heavy shot and offensive upside. Tolvanen has surprised with his defensive game as well to become a regular on a line centered by Yanni Gourde, and will be a key contributor down the stretch.

Tovanen has fit right in with the Kraken and the culture of the team. He’s happy and loves the city, although he’s still learning his way around and has yet to settle on a favorite restaurant.

“When we’re on the road, you eat out a lot,’ he said. “When we’re home I try to cook a lot.”

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