Taking stock in the NWHL offseason post-draft

Michelle Jay
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It’s that time in the NWHL offseason where some teams have the blueprint for a full roster and others haven’t signed a single player.

There’s still a lot of time before the projected start of the season in late October, and surely some teams will make moves in the coming weeks. The International Draft, scheduled for July 25, is the next date on the offseason calendar.

Here’s a look at what each team has been up to this offseason to date.

Boston Pride

The Pride haven’t announced any signings yet, but there’s some things we know.

Lexie Laing, Tereza Vanisova, Carlee Turner, and Mary Parker aren’t expected to return. That’s a tough blow to forward depth, but the Pride are arguably the most desirable team to play for in women’s hockey. They’ll be able to sign some free agents.

They added forwards Abby Nearhis and Finley Frechette in the draft. Both are local, so assuming they sign, they’ll fill some gaps. It’s a far cry from the six rookies who dressed a season ago. Corinne Buie, who didn’t play for the Whitecaps last season, just moved to Boston. Perhaps she’s an option.

The core of the Pride — Jillian Dempsey, Kaleigh Fratkin, McKenna Brand, Mallory Souliotis, Sammy Davis — are all expected to return. The defending Isobel Cup champions will have depth. We just don’t know what they look like yet. With general manager Karilyn Pilch departing to be an NHL scout in Chicago, it’s unclear who takes over. New president Colleen Coyne will no doubt have some sort of role in building the Pride further.

Projection:

Putigna – Dempsey – Brand
Wenczkowski – Davis – Sullivan
Nearhis – Frechette – Rickard/McManus

Fratkin – Souliotis
Rheault – Kelly
Capistran – Turnquist

Selander
Hanson

[MORE: Thoughts from the 2021 NWHL Draft]

Buffalo Beauts

The Beauts are already in solid shape — moreso than the bubble in Lake Placid. They’ve re-signed captain Taylor Accursi, who missed last season, and top defender Lisa Chesson. Goalie Carly Jackson, who became a fan favorite and held her own as a rookie, is also slated to return.

Then the Beauts had seven draft picks, more than any other team, and they made the most of them. The second overall pick, Emilie Harley, is projected to play right from the start for a defense that needs some help. Along with fellow draft pick Anjelica Diffendal, Harley is a six-foot tall player. The Beauts have by far the most size in the league.

Jordan Juron and Emma Ruggiero won’t be returning. The rest of the crew, though, is projected to be a part of Nate Oliver’s squad.

Projection:

Vinkle – T. Accursi – MacPherson
Diffendal – MacDougall – H. Accursi
Lewicki – Meneghin – Stacey
Gehen – Budde – Colton

Chesson – Pelletier
Harley – Kremer
Delay – Dove

Jackson
Flagg

Connecticut Whale

The offseason darlings are going to be a fun dark horse pick after surprising success in the bubble as it was. Now independently owned, the Whale are having more offseason hype than any offseason prior.

The additions of elite scorer Kennedy Marchment and defender Allie Munroe no doubt contribute to that. Goalie Abbie Ives re-signed after showing some potential in the bubble, too. They might be able to reel in Metro defender Rebecca Morse and improve that defensive depth further.

First overall pick Taylor Girard is a Quinnipiac alum and is going to have the chance to earn some serious minutes in a top-six role.

No Shannon Doyle on defense is a tough blow. A full season of Tori Howran, recently re-signed, should at least fill some of the gap. She’s projected to be the top defender on the Whale.

Projection:

Marchment – Vlasic – Wohlfeiler
Russ – Girard – Friesen
Polaski – Anderson – Klienbach

Howran – Munroe
Morse – Beattie
Lague – Orlando

Ives

NWHL
(Michelle Jay)

Metropolitan Riveters

We know three things about the Riveters; Saroya Tinker and Sammy Kolowrat aren’t returning and Madison Packer is.

General manager Anya Packer made the first order of business signing her wife Madison, the Rivs captain. They’ll build from there.

They drafted four defenders after losing Tinker and probably Morse. They needed some defensive depth anyways. How many of them they will sign — Caroline Ross, Julia Scammell, Jordan Sanislo, and Morgan Schauer — remains to be seen. Even if they all do, that’s a young back line and a veteran presence could help. Kristen Barbara from Toronto could make the jump.

Projection:

Hutchison – Packer Leary
Janiga – Cornine – Lewis
Russo – Rushton – Voight

Ross -Sanislo
Dosdall-Arena – Scammell
Prentiss – Schauer

Hofmann
Shelly

Minnesota Whitecaps

So far all we know about the Whitecaps is their third round draft pick, forward Taylor Wente, won’t be signing.

Assuming their top two defenders drafted do — Tina Kampa and Mak Langei — the Whitecaps get some youth inserted into an otherwise aging blue line. The average age of Minnesota defenders a year ago was 30.

Assuming as well the Whitecaps keep their core forwards — Allie Thunstrom, Nina Rodgers, and Audra Richards — it’s a team that can compete to go back to the Isobel Cup.

Projection:

Rodgers – Thunstrom – Richards
Anderson – Schmid – Barnes
Mack – Pezon – Curtis
White-Lancette – Astrup – Martinson

Baldwin – Brodt-Brown
Rowe – Langei
Boulier – Kampa

Leveille
Morse

Toronto Six

The Six were the first team to sign two of their draft picks, forwards Maeghan Beres and Leah Marino. They’ve already retained many of their key players — league MVP Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Shiann Darkangelo, Taylor Woods, and Elaine Chuli — and have made the biggest free agent splash with defender Saroya Tinker.

They’re also expected to lose Natalie Marcuzzi, Taytum Clairmont, and Mackenzie MacNeil, along with Julie Allen, who retired.

Tatum Skaggs, their fourth overall pick, signed in Europe and won’t play. The Six might be deep enough to have wasted an early pick to take a chance on her. At least, that’s how it looks so far.

Projection:

Bennett – Grant-Mentis – Woods
Beres – Darkangelo – Fluke
Curlew – Boquist – Coutu-Godbout
MacDonald – McParland – Marino

Woods – Tinker
Steele/Cross – Eastwood
Davison – Greco

Chuli
Ridgewell

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.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

Andrei Kuzmenko
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.