February 12, 2018

Has the grind gotten to Eeli Tolvanen ahead of the Olympics?

Looking for his scoring touch. Eeli Tolvanen has had a rough time in the KHL these past months. Photo: Bildbyrån/Tomi Hänninen

Months ago, ahead of the 2018 WJC, we published a story on who we believed would win the scoring trophy at said tournament. The candidates chosen for the piece were Elias Pettersson, Kieffer Bellows, Jordan Kyrou and Eeli Tolvanen. After carefully weighing our options, Tolvanen ultimately drew the longest straw and ended up as EP’s choice for the scoring trophy title. While the KHL star did put up a respectable six points in five games, only one of those points came in the form of a goal. Ultimately, his performance just wasn’t enough as Finland failed to make the top-4 for the second year in a row. Pettersson (5+2), Bellows (9+1) and Kyrou (3+7) fared better with all three playing into the medal round and Kyrou even winning the gold medal.

So what went wrong for Tolvanen?

A closer look reveals the wingers’ point production in the KHL had actually started to slow down just ahead of the WJC, but it appears a sub-par performance in the tournament hasn’t exactly helped Tolvanen regain his confidence. Before the tournament, Tolvanen had scored one goal and two assists in his last nine games. In his seven games since returning from Buffalo, Tolvanen has yet to manage a single goal with just two assists to his name – one of which came during a 5-on-3 powerplay for Jokerit. He has however managed to find himself benched by coach Jukka Jalonen on one occasion as he played only 03:22 in Jokerit’s game against Neftechimik on January 21st. With Tolvanens goal-scoring drought now up to 16 games – the last time Tolvanen scored a KHL goal was on November 24th against Admiral – you can be sure coach Jalonen will continue to try anything to wake up his second-leading scorer.

As Tolvanen prepares to enter the 2018 Olympic hockey tournament in Pyeongchang, his recent form should be a cause of some concern for Lauri Marjamäki and the rest of Team Finlands coaching staff. The 18-year old is not expected to shoulder nearly as heavy of a burden in terms of scoring compared to the WJC roster, but he is still a KHL player with 34 points (17+17) in 47 games on a team that doesn’t feature an abundance of game-breaking offensive talent. It appears Marjamäkis strategy for getting Tolvanen going will be to put the struggling winger on the left side of Petri Kontiola and Jukka Peltola in what is being dubbed the top line of the Finnish Olympic team.

“We played on a line in the Helsinki tournament this past fall. It worked out quite well then so we are going to try and keep it going”, Tolvanen told Yle.fi just as Finland had completed their first practice in South Korea.

It remains to be seen if the veteran presence of Kontiola and Peltola can help spark the offensive magic that Tolvanen has been gracing KHL crowds with for most of the fall. If it does, a Tolvanen firing on all cylinders could be the difference in Finland making the medal round or falling short in the quarterfinals. Coach Jalonen of Jokerit certainly wouldn’t mind having his star winger come back red-hot and inspired, with a medal around his neck, just before the KHL playoffs.

Ultimately, there is little doubt the young Finn has had a terrific breakout year and should be on an NHL roster sooner rather than later, but for now it appears the grind of playing his first full season in a professional hockey league may have gotten to him.  Which, in itself, is not all that strange. It is easy to forget sometimes that Tolvanen is just an 18-year old young man (he turns 19 in April) that is still growing and developing, both as a player and as a person.

Perhaps this recent streak of adversity has been just what he needed to be able to pull himself together and deliver a great performance in the Olympics.

Our first chance to find out arrives on February 15th when Finland takes on Germany for their opening game.

Hampus Duvefelt hampus_duvefelt@live.se
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