While everything in a rookie tournament should be taken with a grain of salt, Predators top forward prospect Eeli Tolvanen is making his case for being a starter going into the 2019-20 season.

At the 2019 NHL Prospect Showcase hosted by the Predators at Ford Ice Center, the Predators rookies have played two games against rookies from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals. They beat the Lightning 4-1 on Saturday and the Capitals 3-2 in overtime on Sunday.

Eeli Tolvanen scored a goal in the first period on Saturday to make it a 2-0 game. Then on Sunday he scored the overtime winner, taking a cross ice feed from Thomas Novak and burying it by the Caps goalie to clinch the win.

The Predators’ top selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has been on a slow boil for the last couple seasons, but he’s starting to grow into his own. He has the talent and is starting to put it all together. But will it be enough to be included in the final 23 in October?

Tolvanen Makes His Case, But Roster Is Packed

The way David Poile has re-engineered the roster this summer, it may be tough for Tolvanen to make the roster unless he out-right beats someone for a job during training camp.

That’s because right now, the Preds probably have all of their forward positions already decided.

Tolvanen isn’t going to beat out any of the returning top six players. The arrival of Matt Duchene pushes players like Kyle Turris and Calle Jarnkrok down into the bottom six, making it harder for bubble players to make the team. The team signed top AHL scorer Daniel Carr to a one-way deal. And don’t forget, the team signed restricted free agents Rocco Grimaldi and Colton Sissons to new deals this summer, so they are playing.

If the season started tomorrow, the roster probably looks something like this:

  • Forwards (13): Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Mikael Granlund, Matt Duchene, Craig Smith, Nick Bonino, Colton Sissons, Kyle Turris, Austin Watson, Calle Jarnkrok, Daniel Carr, Rocco Grimaldi
  • Defenseman (8): Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Dante Fabbro, Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin, Steven Santini
  • Goalies (2): Pekka Rinne, Juuse Saros

That’s a roster that is going to be hard to crack for a guy who has yet to prove he’s ready for everyday NHL action.

Still, it could happen. One possibility is for the Predators to keep 14 forwards and only 7 defensemen, though Peter Laviolette almost always prefers to keep 8 defensemen going into the regular season. There’s some redundancy at the bottom of the blueline with the arrival of Steven Santini. Could Matt Irwin or Yannick Weber be on the way out, leaving room for Tolvanen to take that 14th forward spot?

Another possibility, as I mentioned before, is that he beats someone out-right. But with the contract status of the current 13 forwards, they would have to cut someone prior to the season. None of those forwards are on two-way contracts, so they can’t just go down to Milwaukee. Tolvanen, on the other hand, can be sent to Milwaukee, so it’s hard to imagine someone getting the axe when you can just send him to the AHL.

Right now, I would still say the most likely scenario is that Tolvanen begins the year in Milwaukee and is the first call-up in the case of an injury.

But if Tolvanen keeps up the scoring pace in this pre-pre-season, it will at least make the Preds coaching staff think twice about sending their top prospect down to Milwaukee to start the year.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —