Predators sign top prospect Eeli Tolvanen to 3-year, entry-level contract

, USA TODAY NETWORK — TennesseePublished 10:30 a.m. CT March 29, 2018 | Updated 2:44 p.m. CT March 29, 2018

The Predators’ first-round pick from last year participated in the team’s morning skate Thursday.

Heralded prospect Eeli Tolvanen to a three-year, entry-level contract Thursday.

Tolvanen, who participated in Thursday’s morning skate and is expected to make his NHL debut this weekend, will receive the maximum allowable contract for entry-level players — $925,000 in total salary and up to $2.85 million in potential performance bonuses.

Such a deal usually is reserved for top draft picks. Tolvanen’s terms are identical to those of Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (No. 1 in 2015), Buffalo’s Jack Eichel (No. 2 in 2015), Toronto’s Auston Matthews (No. 1 in 2016) and New Jersey’s Nico Hischier (No. 1 in 2017) when they entered the NHL.

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Tolvanen, drafted by the Predators in the first round (No. 30) last June, is considered among the league’s most talented prospects.

The 18-year-old forward had 19 goals and 36 points in his rookie KHL season, which ended last week when Jokerit was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. Both totals were the highest by an under-19 player in league history.

More: Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen parts with KHL team

Tolvanen, who scored six times in 11 playoff games, also shined on the Olympic stage, totaling nine points in five games for Finland.

“Playoffs are coming, and I know they’re a really good team, so it’s easy to jump in because there’s a lot of good players and they’re going to push me forward,” Tolvanen said. “That’s a good thing for me.”

It’s important to temper expectations for Tolvanen. He’s not coming to Nashville now to supplant the Predators’ top forwards, but to complement them.

“He had a really good year in the KHL,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “I watched him play a lot in the Olympics. I thought he was excellent. What he did in the playoffs in the KHL is incredible for such a young kid. But now he’s a young kid coming to the National Hockey League, the best league in the world (with) the best players in the world.

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“We hope it’s a seamless transition, but you never know. Sometimes it isn’t with young kids. We’ve got lots of time. He doesn’t have to come in here and carry a team or carry the load.”

As far as this season is concerned, Tolvanen’s tremendous release and savviness with the puck should enhance the Predators’ depth, leading to a more prominent role in future seasons.

More: Predators’ lineup should get even stronger with expected arrival of top prospect Eeli Tolvanen

“He’s an offensive player, so he’s got to trend toward the top two lines, which maybe if you get him in the lineup, maybe you could actually say you have three offensive lines,” Predators general manager David Poile said. “I’m not against that. He’s not a fourth-line player or a checker. He’s an offensive player.

“Arguably with his success, he should get some time on the power play. It’s probably not how much he plays. It’s just where he plays.”

Tolvanen can appear in up to nine games this season without burning the first year of his contract. Playoff games count toward that total.

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– Most points by U19 players in a single KHL season (36 Pts, 49 GP)
– 2-time rookie of the month
– 6-time rookie of the week
– 2018 appearance
Thanks for an amazing season, @eeli1999!

Good luck in the NHL!

Reach Adam Vingan at and on Twitter @AdamVingan.