SIOUX CITY | There’s all sorts of websites out there pointing toward the NHL Draft, set to begin Friday night in Chicago.
Several mock drafts list Sioux City Musketeers right wing Eeli Tolvanen as a first-round selection. Two of them have Tolvanen going to the Florida Panthers as the 10th overall pick.
Another has the native of Nummela, Finland, being selected 12th by the Carolina Hurricanes. One suggests that he’s going to the New York Islanders as the 15th pick, while yet another site lists him at 17th, destined for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Of course, it feels nice that somebody thinks I’ve got some potential to go in the first round of the NHL Draft,” said Tolvanen. “I just need to keep working hard every day and do those little things right. The NHL has been my dream, my goal since Day 1. I think the NHL is every kid’s dream.”
Tolvanen’s dream is fueled by a deadly left-handed shot which took a United States Hockey League-best 246 shots this past season.
The Boston College recruit saved his best for his second year in the league, ranking third with 30 goals. Combine that with his 24 assists and it adds up to 54 points, the USHL's eighth-best.
Tolvanen helped the Musketeers win the Anderson Cup and the Western Conference regular-season title. Sioux City posted playoff wins over Des Moines and Waterloo before falling to Chicago in the Clark Cup Finals.
Could he be the second player from the Clark Cup Playoffs runner-up team to make the NHL in the future? Late last month, goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks signed a three-year entry level contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“There’s a lot of great players in the USHL and I think it’s one of the best junior hockey leagues,” said Tolvanen. “It’s hard to score in this league because there are great goalies like Matiss Kivlenieks.”
“I think Eeli will be a high pick in this year’s draft,” said Musketeers Coach Jay Varady. “He’s a great offensive talent. He has an elite shot and vision to make plays. Eeli brings potential to a league that covets speed and skill.”
Tolvanen scored 47 career goals in Sioux City, reaching six power-play goals each year. This season, he also tallied six game-winning goals.
“I think Eeli’s production has proven he can score,” said Varady. “The USHL is a hard league to produce in and he was able to score 30 goals. He has scored internationally at the 18-unders and also in the hardest environment in the 20-Unders World Juniors. He has scored on every stage.”
One knock against Tolvanen is his lack of size. However, the 5-foot-10, 170-pounder has also been credited for his ability to elude opponents and finish off the rush into scoring position.
“It means I’m going to do whatever it’s going to take to be a smaller player in the NHL,” said Tolvanen. “I am a goal scorer and just an all-around offensive guy. I think vision is one of the most important tools in the NHL and I think my vision is good.”
NHL Central Scouting graded Tolvanen high throughout the season. The 2016 USHL All-Rookie selection was named an “A” rated skater on last October’s NHLCS Preliminary List.
Tolvanen maintained that rating throughout the season. He was listed seventh in the January Midterm rankings for North American players and eighth in mid-April’s final rankings.
A-rated skaters are likely first-round NHL draft picks. The only USHL skater ranked higher than Tolvanen was Green Bay’s Casey Mittelstadt (3rd), who incidentally on one site, has been projected to be a first-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, who will select eighth.
No matter where he ends up, Tolvanen values the time he spent with the Musketeers.
“Jay taught me a lot as a player,” he said. “Since Day 1 when I came to Sioux City, he helped me with my offense and defense. I think that’s the biggest thing of why I’m at this position right now. My time in Sioux City helped me a lot as a player and a person. Everything we did in the Musketeers was great.”
“I think we see a player like Eeli once every 10 or 15 years in Sioux City,” said Varady. “He is a special talent that chose to spend two years with us mostly because of the relationships he built with his teammates. Year 1, he was 16 years old in a new country and his first time away from home. In Year 2, he took on the responsibility of being an offensive player on a good team. He embraced it and wanted to score every time he stepped on the ice.”