Thoughts from the 2021 NWHL Draft

NWHL
Michelle Jay

The 2021 NWHL Draft was as chaotic as it was impossible to predict.

The picks came in wildly quick succession, some players already said they’re not signing, some have already signed and the pick announcements came from celebrities across hockey and women’s sports.

For the second season in a row, USA Hockey women’s director Katie Million announced a pick. NHL executives like Kim Davis were a part of it. Perhaps it’s a sign of the women’s hockey fracture mending, perhaps it means nothing. Women’s hockey is far from unity, but, the appearances, as they did last draft, remain notable.

The one-hour draft introduced 30 — well, 28 if you count the two players who already said they won’t sign — players to the league across the six teams. Boston had the fewest picks with two; Buffalo had the most with seven. Taylor Girard from Quinnipiac was the first overall selection to Connecticut, who swapped picks with the Beauts two weeks ago.

How many players make rosters in what’s considered one of the weaker drafts in league history will be a narrative before Season 7 beginning in late October. For now, some thoughts on where each team is at following their respective drafts.

NWHL
The Boston Pride celebrate winning the 2021 Isobel Cup Final in Boston on Mar 27, 2021. (Michelle Jay/NWHL)

Boston Pride

The Pride didn’t put a ton of stock into the draft, and honestly, they didn’t have to. They might be losing Tereza Vanisova and Lexie Laing, but with their depth, and ability to sign essentially anyone they’d want, the draft wasn’t tne end all be all.

They ended up with Cornell’s Finley Frechette in the fourth round and Brown’s Abby Nearhis in the fifth, so they still nabbed two players who should make the team. Both local players, to keep their brand alive, of course.

The Pride haven’t announced any signings yet, but the Isobel Cup winners were as tight-knit a group as any. They barely had any turnover aside from their rookie class from 2020 to 2021. Expect even less turnover, even without Vanisova and Laing, now with as solid a second-year group in the league.

If there’s any team in pro hockey to not worry about, it’s the Boston Pride.

Buffalo Beauts

General manager Nate Oliver had a plan for the draft and he executed it arguably better than any general manager. He loaded up with seven draft picks and took it seriously, and now the Beauts have seven players they’re likely to sign.

“I think that as our league continues to grow and build that it will become more imperative for teams to scout talent outside of North America,” said Oliver during the draft broadcast, in reference to third round pick Anna Zíková.
“Zíková I have known for 7 years or so ….Her caliber as a D and a shot blocker go a long way,”

The Beauts selected two of the three international players who were in the draft; their other was Casey Traill from Tea, England.

Buffalo’s second overall pick, Emilie Harley, a defender from Robert Morris, helps fill in on defense where they’ve lacked in the past. They used their second round pick on her RMU teammate, forward Anjelica Diffendal. University of Alberta forward Kennedy Ganser, selected in the third round, projects as a solid depth forward in the league as well.

The Beauts have been active this offseason, and they took the draft seriously. It might just pay off for them.

Connecticut Whale

Taylor Girard was a worthy top pick as a player who is almost certainly going to become a part of the Whale offense. Connecticut is already improved after an even-more improved 2021 season; they added Kennedy Marchment at forward and Allie Munroe on the blue line. They appear to be keeping the majority of their core talent.

Add Girard in the equation and the Whale are looking pretty good. The Quinnipiac forward had 69 points in her 105 career collegiate games.

“Her work ethic and everything she brings to the team fits our culture,” Whale head coach Colton Orr said on the draft broadcast.

Connecticut used its second round pick on Syracuse forward Emma Polaski, who had strong free agent camp showings. They added St. Cloud State defender Hannah Bates in the fourth round and New Hampshire forward Casey Middleton in the fifth. Typically, the Whale have had success going after under-scouted Division 3 players; this year, they went all-in on Division 1 talent.

Minnesota Whitecaps forward Allie Thunstrom celebrates her goal during a semifinal game of the 2021 Isobel Cup playoffs in Boston on Mar 26, 2021. (Michelle Jay/NWHL)

Minnesota Whitecaps

It looked like the Whitecaps accomplished the steal of the draft with Minnesota’s Taylor Wente, then the former Golden Gophers forward tweeted she wouldn’t be pursuing professional hockey.

It was a tough draft to scout and prepare for, and with so few options, the approach may have been, “why not go for it?” Still, throwing away a pick isn’t a great thing when they could have traded that pick or drafted someone who wanted to sign.

None of it matters that much, since teams get two weeks to sign players and then it’s a free for all, and, again, this wasn’t the best draft class in the history of the league. A player publicly saying she’s not playing less than an hour after being selected though screams some sort of communication breakdown.

Bemidji defender Mak Langei was the Whitecaps’ first round pick, and she projects to slot right into their blue line rotation, as does second round defender Tina Kampa. The Whitecaps were the only team to select a goalie, Jenna Brenneman from Penn State.

The Whitecaps have had a quiet offseason aside from being sold to one of the NWHL investors. They never change all too much, and Minnesota is a destination team in women’s hockey. Still, there’s not much news yet as to what the 2021-22 Whitecaps will look like, trying to avenge their Isobel Cup Final loss.

Metropolitan Riveters

The Riveters went into the draft needing defense and that’s what they got. Replacing Saroya Tinker isn’t going to happen overnight, but Rivs general manager Anya Packer knew what her team needed.

Thus far, they’ve signed one player; their captain, Madison Packer, who wasn’t going anywhere. The rest of the Riveters roster remains a mystery. Tinker is gone, so is Sammy Kolowrat overseas, and Rebecca Morse might sign with the Whale.

They used their first pick, a second rounder, on Caroline Ross from Colgate. They then opted for UNH’s Julia Scammell, Sacred Heart’s Jordan Sanislo — who had some looks at Riveters free agent camp — and Long Island’s Morgan Schauer.

We’re still a ways away from knowing what the Riveters will look like in 2021-22. Most likely, a lot different from their Lake Placid roster. They have a clear goal of building the defense, though, and that’s what they did in this draft.

Toronto Six

Perhaps Maegan Beres already signing makes up for the botched Tatum Skaggs pick. Much like the Wente pick to Minnesota, the Six had to have had some idea Skaggs, their fourth overall pick out of Ohio State, wasn’t going to play; she had publicly signed with a team with Austria already.

So it didn’t come as a shock when she tweeted she’d be pursuing hockey overseas. Again, perhaps the thinking was “why not?” with three picks in a row in a weird draft year. That early on, though, the Six could have added more to their roster.

Beres was a strong pick at No. 3, though. The Boston College forward was announced by her college coach, Katie King Crowley. BC players have been opting for the PWHPA in previous seasons, so perhaps it means something. Perhaps she’s just a solid forward added to the Six lineup and it means nothing beyond that.

They did get York defender Taylor Davison to close out a wild first round. Later, they picked up Mercyhurst defender Rachel Marmen. Assuming they both sign, the Six blue line is a lot deeper than how it began last season.

The Six have taken shape as much as anyone else in the league with a bunch of their core returning — Emma Woods, Shiann Darkangelo, Elaine Chuli — and are clearly a team free agents want to play for. New general manager Krysti Clarke still has some work to do. Locking up Beres, though, is a solid early move.

Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.

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