Which Olympian could step into an NHL lineup right away?
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Did you see any of Finland's games during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics? Tell me you weren't impressed with Eeli Tolvanen -- or, better yet, try to convince me that the winger can't have an impact at the NHL level right now. I'll be honest; I didn't know much about the 18-year-old entering the Games. I knew he was the Nashville Predators' top draft pick in 2017, taken with the 30th pick of the first round. I knew he was playing in the KHL. I knew that he is a guy who prospect experts, like our very own Chris Peters, called a "high-end scorer." Chris also alerted me to this: While playing for Jokerit in the KHL, Tolvanen recently surpassed Evgeny Kuznetsov's KHL record for most points by a player under the age of 19 in a single season (he had 34 points in 47 games entering the Olympics). So Tolvanen is precocious, and productive at a young age in a very mature league.
But what I saw in the Olympics sold me. This kid is ready to play now (side note: how did he slip so far in the draft?). He had nine points in five games, and was by far Finland's most impressive offensive player -- both with his vicious shot and the way he creatively set up goals. It's an unscientific assessment, but my eyes were drawn to him any time he was on the ice.
Debuting in the NHL this season is feasible for Tolvanen. As The Athletic reported this week, the Predators have a contract in place that they can execute for him to play in Nashville this season (there's an out clause in Tolvanen's KHL contract that would allow him to leave the team after Jokerit's season is over).
There's precedent for a young player joining a team for a playoff run. Just look at last season, when Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy signed his entry-level contract in April -- then debuted in the playoffs. McAvoy posted three assists in six first-round games, averaging 26:12 minutes of ice time. He was clearly NHL-ready, and the experience hardly impeded his development. At this point, I probably don't need to alert anyone to McAvoy's impact on the Bruins this season.
Greg Wyshynski: Something happened whenever Jordan Greenway hit the ice for the Americans in South Korea. Most times, it was the 21-year-old forward throwing around his 6-foot-6 frame at undersized opponents. Other times, it was one of his 13 shots on goal, second on Team USA. Unfortunately, it also might have been a penalty, as Greenway led the team with 10 PIMs. He also scored a goal that one time.
The point is that Greenway was present and accounted for during the tournament in ways that, oh, 80 percent of his teammates were not. It was enough to whet my appetite for Greenway to join the Minnesota Wild, who drafted him No. 50 overall in 2014, and become a force for them in a playoff push.
Greenway, who made history this year as the first black player to suit up for an American Olympic hockey team, has 25 points in 28 games for Boston University this season, and therein lies the rub: The Terriers aren't expected to be a factor in the NCAA men's hockey postseason, which means his season could be done as of March 18. He's a junior; does he want to stay an additional year in school, or make the leap to the NHL?
If he signs, Greenway would be a welcome addition to the Wild as a depth forward. He played both wing and center at BU this season, so that would add a little flexibility for Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau.
"There shouldn't be a player who can defend against him," Wild director of player development Brad Bombardir said of Greenway last July, to the Pioneer Press. "If he's on his game, and he's willing to play the game the right way, the way that he needs to play it, there should be not many guys (who can stop him) ... even the guys at the next level."
Chris Peters, NHL prospects writer: Tolvanen definitely looks like the most ready of the prospects to step into an NHL lineup and make immediate contributions, for all of the reasons Emily stated. He's one of the best prospects in hockey right now. I expected him to have a good season in the KHL, but to outpace Kuznetsov at the same age says a lot. Then Tolvanen went to the Olympics and had the most productive tournament by a player under 19 since Eric Lindros had 11 points in three more games in 1992. I don't think I need to tell you that the goalies today, even those outside of the NHL, take up a lot more net than they did in 1992.
The one thing I would be moderately concerned about if I were Nashville is how much of an impact he can make right away. He obviously has the talent, with the elite shot and the confidence to fire it from anywhere, but he has had kind of a weird season in terms of where and how he has played. On top of the 47 games he already has played for Jokerit in the KHL, he appeared in five games at the World Juniors in Buffalo, five at the Olympics, and a few more in various tournaments and pre-tournament games. He has played on three continents this season. I'd be a little worried about wear and tear going into the grueling postseason, but I'd also assume he would have managed minutes should he sign and get into the Nashville lineup. Maybe it doesn't matter, but it's something to be aware of in case he struggles early on.
Aside from Tolvanen, I think that most of the drafted NHL prospects we saw in the tournament showed that they're all just about ready. The three college players who played for Team USA could easily pop into an NHL lineup and contribute. All still have eligibility to return to college next season. My sense is that Greenway and Anaheim Ducks pick Troy Terry are likely to go pro as soon as their college seasons end, but I'm less certain about Boston Bruins prospect Ryan Donato, who has one year left at Harvard. I don't think there's much reason for Bruins fans to fret. A lot of players who choose to play at Harvard stay for their full four years. I also don't think it's likely that Donato will test free agency, a la former Crimson teammate Jimmy Vesey. It is clear, however, that Donato already has an NHL-caliber shot and offensive abilities. If he were willing to leave early, the Bruins shouldn't hesitate to plug him in. He can flat-out play.
Also, don't sleep on Finnish defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The Dallas Stars' No. 3 pick in 2017 played top-four minutes for Finland and was on the ice in key situations, including late in its must-win game against Canada. The Finns did not win, but Heiskanen looked really good. He is a remarkably mature defenseman and is already under contract with the Stars -- but on loan to HIFK in Finland. The biggest difference between Heiskanen and Tolvanen, however, is that before playing in Finland this year, Tolvanen spent two years in the USHL, where he was playing on the small surface. Heiskanen has spent his entire career on big ice, so his transition could be rockier.