The NWHL’s first amateur draft takes place June 20. The free agent signing period doesn’t close until August 17. Thus far, just one signing has been announced, league-wide. The NWHL is purporting to be a league solely focused on its players; with that in mind, the league’s amateur draft is for women completing their junior year of college. Having more than a year between their draft day and their first game will give the players an opportunity to find work and housing in their new homes, making for a smoother transition and helping them to afford playing in a league that only pays part of a living salary.
While there has been just one signing announced, it’s likely the teams have a clearer idea of what their opening night rosters will look like. Without the benefit of that knowledge, we have to assume that this first amateur draft will consist mostly of teams drafting the top available talent. That being said, I didn’t want to give just a straight ranking of candidates. While we can’t know if any of the four teams already have their goaltending nailed down, we can know that if they draft Emerance Maschmeyer in the first round they’ll likely not use one of their four remaining draft picks on another goalie. Likewise, it’s unlikely a team would draft five offensive players, even if the top talent on the board at the time of their pick is a forward.
So imagine this as part ranking, part mock draft. I considered also grading the prospects, but when we’re talking the top 20 juniors in NCAA hockey, it’s difficult to imagine any of them not scoring As or 8-10 using the Hockey’s Future system. This list features 12 women that played in the 2015 Frozen Four, two Patty Kazmaier finalists (including the winner), and four Patty Top Ten Finalists. Three of them played in the Sochi Olympics, and eight more were on rosters for the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Malmo. This is elite level talent from top to bottom.
First pick – New York Riveters – Alex Carpenter, F, Boston College
Second pick – Connecticut Whale – Hannah Brandt, F, Minnesota
Neither New York nor Connecticut will lose with the top two picks. I have Alex Carpenter edging out Hannah Brandt as number one overall, but arguments could be made for either player. There’s no doubt that these two are far and away the prizes of this draft.
I chose Carpenter based on her international experience — she was on Team USA for both Sochi and Malmo, and also played in the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championship and spent the year prior to Sochi away from school centralized with Team USA. Carpenter scored a team-high four goals in Sochi at age 19. The additional year of age, experience, and top-level competition makes Carpenter the jewel of this draft. She led the NCAA by a significant margin in total points and points per game. One of the things that makes Carpenter so dynamic is that she actually averaged more assists than goals per game. She’s relentless to the net, but not selfish. She’s also incredibly dangerous in the face-off circle, having led the country with a nearly 68 percent success rate.
While Brandt came second to Carpenter in many of the NCAA scoring categories, she did so in a tougher league against five of the top 12 goalies and team defenses in the country. A spectacular individual talent, Brandt shines among an equally talented team; three of her teammates are among the top 20 juniors listed here. A Patty Kaz finalist each of the past two years and a top ten finalist her freshman year, Brandt has been absolutely stellar in college. Joining Team USA in Malmo and scoring three goals and tallying two assists in five games played, Brandt showed she can make the transition to the international game and compete against the world’s top talent.
Third pick – Boston Pride – Emerance Maschmeyer, G, Harvard
Maschmeyer is the top goalie in this draft, not only for her skill but for her leadership. A starter at Harvard since her freshman year, she earned herself a roster spot with Canada in Malmo — no easy feat with the abundance of outstanding netminders up north. After a slow start to the season, she averaged just one goal against. Maschmeyer was key in handing No. 1 Boston College its only loss in the regular season in 2014-15 when Harvard won the Beanpot. She was stellar in the Crimson’s 2-1 win over BC in the national semifinal, stopping 42 shots.
Fourth pick – Buffalo Beauts – Kendall Coyne, F, Northeastern
A member of Team USA, Coyne has played in four women’s world championships and five Four Nations Cups in addition to the Sochi Olympics. Coyne uses her speed and small stature to carve up defenses, helping her to the NCAA lead in short-handed goals. She tallied three goals and four assists in Malmo and two goals and four assists in Sochi. She tied for the tournament lead with a plus-8 rating. A 2014-15 Patty Kaz top ten finalist, Coyne is second on the Northeastern career goals list.
Fifth pick – New York Riveters – Erin Ambrose, D, Clarkson
Based on how I see the rest of the draft shaking out and the dearth of defensemen available, I think the Riveters need to reach for the top blue-liner with their second pick or risk missing out. Ambrose is a commanding defender, helping lead Clarkson from the point and directing its pace of play. With more than 100 points over her first three seasons, despite missing a few games this past season to injury, Ambrose is a leader on both ends of the ice. She served as an assistant captain for Clarkson this past season.
Sixth pick – Connecticut Whale – Michelle Picard, D, Harvard
Similar to the Riveters, I think Connecticut bypasses possibly better available forwards to pick up Olympian Michelle Picard. With both Sochi and two women’s world championships under her belt, Picard proves that despite not having flashy offensive numbers, she’s a worthwhile member of the blue line and a solid presence.
Seventh pick – Boston Pride – Sarah Lefort, F, Boston University
She may have been overshadowed by teammate Marie-Philip Poulin at BU, but Lefort is a legit scoring threat in her own right, something she proved in 2013-14 when Poulin was centralized with Team Canada for Sochi. Despite what would have been increased defensive attention, Lefort tallied 55 points in 38 games. Through three seasons, Lefort has amassed 148 points on 79 goals and 69 assists. Her balanced attack comes with spurts of brilliance — she had an NCAA-high three hat tricks this past season.
Eighth pick – Buffalo Beauts – Milica McMillen, D, Minnesota
At 5-feet-10, McMillen brings size and strength to the blue line. Tied for fifth in the country in points among defensemen, McMillen is not afraid to fire at the net and is a major part of the Gophers’ highly successful power-play unit. She was paired with 6-foot defender Lee Stecklein, forming an almost impenetrable force for Minnesota. If the Beauts are able to find another defenseman of size to pair with McMillen, they’d form an imposing front.
Ninth pick – New York Riveters – Haley Skarupa, F, Boston College
Time spent with Team USA and in Malmo seems to have really benefited Skarupa. On an already packed offensive team at Boston College, she was second to Carpenter in points and goals and netted seven game-winners last season. While she’s not the only focal point, Skarupa has developed into a solid first-line teammate who works more as a unit.
10th pick – Connecticut Whale – Miye D’Oench, F, Harvard
D’Oench has led Harvard in points-per-game over each of the past two seasons. A player who saw increased ice time two years ago after most of the Crimson’s point production graduated, D’Oench flourished. Combined with the return of Olympic talent last season, D’Oench was second on the team in points and helped bring Harvard to the national championship game. She’s known for her soft hands and skilled puck handling.
11th pick – Boston Pride – Courtney Burke, D, Wisconsin
The most solid presence on Wisconsin’s blue line the past two seasons, Burke quietly controls the puck and helps set Wisconsin’s pace from the back. It’s possible we haven’t seen Burke’s true capabilities, as she hasn’t had the opportunity of playing with a truly strong partner. She’s an offensive threat with an eye for the net through traffic and a strong shot from the point.
12th pick – Buffalo Beauts – Maryanne Menafee, F, Minnesota
Menafee has played on Minnesota’s top line her whole career and provides a potent threat when defenses focus on teammates Brandt and Dani Cameranesi. Comfortable with sharing the load and the puck with some of the best players in the world, expect Menafee to transition to the league easily despite little international experience.
13th pick – New York Riveters – Dana Trivigno, F, Boston College
Imagining how picks will play together gets more interesting in the later rounds. The thought that the Riveters could pair teammates Skarupa and Trivigno is too good to pass up. Trivigno is small, but brings pace and persistence. She averaged more than three shots a game on that stacked BC offense. An intriguing player that would push offenses matched up against the second or third line.
14th pick – Connecticut Whale – Becca Kohler, F, University of North Dakota
Kohler could be a bit of a steal for the Whale here and would be a spectacular partner for Brandt. At 6 feet tall, Kohler brings the size that Brandt lacks. She’s physical in front of the goal, handled increased ice time with more production this past season at NoDak, and has a high ceiling.
15th pick – Boston Pride – Lexi Bender, D, Boston College
Could be a solid D-pair for Boston with previously drafted Burke. Bender is the top-scoring defender of this class and it’s tantalizing to imagine her and Burke supporting each other out of the back. She’s quick on the transition and has practice feeding some of the top scorers in the league.
16th pick – Buffalo Beauts – Shannon MacAuley, F, Clarkson
MacAuley, who led the Clarkson Knights as captain this season, is most well-known for her breakaway, game-winning goal in 2014 to upset Minnesota and make the Golden Knights the only non-WCHA team to ever win a national championship. At 5-feet-11, MacAuley brings size to the front, helping her win along the boards and in front of the net. Her best skill may lie in her leadership and ability to raise the efforts of her teammates.
17th pick – New York Riveters – Amanda Leveille, G, Minnesota
Leveille has been a solid netminder for Minnesota, though her numbers are exaggerated based on the world-class defense in front of her. Leveille recently spent time at Hockey Canada’s goalie camp. If she can find a way to better control the rebounds she’s prone to giving up, Leveille will find success as a starter in the league.
18th pick – Connecticut Whale – Renata Fast, D, Clarkson
Fast’s value lies in her stingy defense. In 2013-14, she was plus-36. Last season, she was plus-14. Despite missing nine games to injury in 2014-15, she had career highs in goals, assists, and points. She’s competed with Team Canada’s U-22 squad.
19th pick – Boston Pride – Stephanie Anderson, F, Bemidji State
Anderson is the only Bemidji player to ever medal in international competition. She and her teammates have ushered in a new era in the WCHA, with the Beavers building themselves as a formidable foe. Anderson scored BSU’s lone goal in a 1-0 upset of Minnesota in the WCHA Final Face-Off semifinals. She’s the type of player that will only bloom when surrounded by top level talent. Expect improvement from Anderson as she spends time with Team USA.
20th pick – Buffalo Beauts – Meghan Dufault, F, University of North Dakota
Dufault’s strength is her vision on the ice. Adept at finding open teammates, she led North Dakota in assists in 2014-15. She fed a beautiful pass in UND’s triple-overtime winner over Ohio State in the first round of WCHA playoffs. Dufault also has breakaway speed and tied an NCAA record, scoring two short-handed goals in a period in 2013-14. She played with Team Canada’s U-22 in the 2015 Nations Cup.
New York Riveters