Sunday, 20 August 2017

The Biggest Draft Class Yet

The CWHL Draft happened today. If you happen not to follow any hockey people on social media, you may have missed it, but I'm pretty certain if you're reading this blog you follow at least one person, right? Regardless, the CWHL Draft welcomed a brand-new class of players today to its seven teams as the two Chinese teams - Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays - made their first selections ever in a CWHL Draft, and the Thunder selected its first players under its new Markham locale. In short, today was a pretty special day for the decade-old women's hockey league, and there's a lot of reason for optimism as the CWHL embarks on its eleventh season of play!

We'll start with the Boston Blades who held the first-overall pick. Newly-announced GM Jessica Martino selected Union College forward Courtney Turner with the first pick, and the Milton, Massachusetts-born Turner might have raised a few eyebrows as the top selection.

During her four years at Union College, Turner amassed 11 goals and 17 assists in 83 NCAA games, but missed the entire 2014-15 season due to a torn ACL. She did lead Union in scoring in her freshman year, but her two points last season was more due to the knee injury she suffered midway through the season. I could probably write a whole entry on Union's women's program and the many flaws in it, but know that when she did play for Union she was an effective scoring threat and made the players around her better. That's why Martino drafted her, in this writer's opinion, with the Blades' first pick.

The Toronto Furies were up next, and they chose Boston College forward Kristyn Capizzano with their first selection. There's no real mystery why Capizzano was an easy selection for Toronto. In her four seasons with Boston College, Capizzano scored 45 goals and 57 assists in 155 games, and she was an assistant captain for the Eagles in her senior year. The Oakville, Ontario native played in all situations with the Eagles, and she was a valued two-way player in all four years. Toronto nabbed a great player in Capizzano who will help them at both ends of the ice.

The first pick made by the Thunder as the Markham Thunder was Quinnipiac University defender Nicole Kosta. I'm not sure how or why Kosta is listed as a defender when she was a forward at Quinnipiac, but I just report these things. Kosta scored 39 goals and 84 assists in 137 games with the Bobcats over her five-year NCAA career, and that includes the 2013-14 season where she didn't play due to injury. Nicole suited up with the NWHL's Connecticut Whale last season where she notched six goals and eleven assists in 21 games as a forward. If they are going to use Kosta as a defender, she will give them a major boost on the offensive production from the back-end. If they use her as a forward, she's a proven scorer as well. Either way, the Thunder got a good player in the Mississauga-born Kosta.

In what might have been the first no-brainer pick of the draft, les Canadiennes de Montreal selected McGill University forward Mélodie Daoust with their first selection. Besides being an outstanding scorer at the U Sports level in Canada, she was part of the 2014 Canadian Winter Olympic team that won gold at the Sochi Olympics. She was named as the CIS Rookie of the Year in 2012-13, and became the first player to be named as CIS Player of the Year the season following her rookie campaign. In 79 U Sports games, Daoust scored 71 goals and 96 assists - and that includes missing a season for the Olympics and part of the 2014-15 season with a knee injury! She might be the best pure scorer in the draft, and she's now part of les Canadiennes.

The second Quinnipiac Bobcat had her name called next as the Calgary Inferno opted to select defender Taryn Baumgardt fifth-overall. The Innisfail, Alberta native scored 12 goals and 31 assists in 150 NCAA games, and was one of Quinnipiac's most reliable defenders. She was in second in blocked shots last season with 57, and she was used in all situations for the Bobcats. While her point totals won't wow anyone, her versatility in all three zones will play nicely into the Inferno's systems. Baumgardt will be an excellent, steadying player for the Inferno this season.

Kunlun Red Star selected next, and they chose a player who we had already known would be heading to China. With their first selection in CWHL history, Kunlun Red Star selected Finnish goaltender Noora Räty. The 28 year-old's name should be fairly well known thanks to her long career with the Finnish national team and with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. She holds six NCAA records including winning percentage at 1.000, wins in a season with 38, and most wins all-time with 114. She's a two-time Patty Kazmaier Award finalist, a two-time NCAA champion, and an Olympic bronze medalist. Raty's reputation proceeds her in almost all situations, and she'll now try to help Kunlun Red Star capture the Clarkson Cup this season.

The Vanke Rays would make their first selection in CWHL history next as the final pick of Round One, and they selected Clarkson Golden Knights forward Cayley Mercer with the seventh-overall selection. Mercer's four-year career at Clarkson saw her crack the 20-goal plateau three times, and she finished her NCAA career with 80 goals and 98 assists in 160 games. She's a two-time NCAA champion, was a Patty Kazmaier nominee in her senior year, and is particularly skilled in winning face-offs. If Vanke wanted scoring, they'll get it in bunches with Cayley Mercer.

There were some other notable players who were selected in later rounds. These choices include:
  • Lindsay Grigg - Markham Thunder (R2, 10th-overall). Grigg is a skilled defender who played one season in the NWHL before moving to HV71 in Sweden. She served as an alternate captain with HV71 and recorded eight goals and ten assists.
  • Kelly Murray - Calgary Inferno (R2, 12th-overall). Murray led all defenders in scoring in Canada West last season as a member of the UBC Thunderbirds, and helped UBC win the Canada West title and the bronze medal at the U Sports National Women's Hockey Championship.
  • Alex Carpenter - Kunlun Red Star (R2, 13th-overall). Carpenter is the 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award winner, a silver medalist at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and a multiple gold-medal winner with Team USA at the IIHF World Championships. She played with the NWHL's Boston Pride last season and played in the NWHL All-Star Game.
  • Elaine Chuli - Vanke Rays (R2, 14th-overall). The Rays got their goalie in UConn's Chuli. Chuli holds all sorts of records at UConn, and she'll be expected to bring her strong goaltending to China to help the Rays in their first year.
  • Bulbul Kartanbayeva - Boston Blades (R3, 15th-overall). The Kazakhstani-born Kartanbayeva dreamed of playing hockey in the US, and she'll get that opportunity after the Blades selected her. Her videos on Twitter show a ton of raw talent, so there's hope she can make the squad.
  • Shiann Darkangelo - Kunlun Red Star (R3, 20th-overall). Darkangelo was a marketable star with the NWHL's Buffalo Beauts, and she'll join the Red Star team in China. She recorded 17 goals and eight assists in 29 NWHL games.
  • Devon Skeats - Markham Thunder (R4, 24th-overall). Skeats is another former NWHL player who made the jump to the CWHL. In 31 NWHL games with the Buffalo Beauts, Skeats recorded 13 goals and seven assists. She'll be counted on to play solid defence for the Thunder.
  • Lindsey Post - Calgary Inferno (R4, 26th-overall). Post was named the U Sports National Championship MVP last season after backstopping the Alberta Pandas to the national title. She was constantly one of the top goalies in the nation in U Sports hockey.
  • Zoe Hickel - Kunlun Red Star (R5, 34th-overall). Hickel was another player rumoured to be heading to China. She played two seasons with the NWHL's Boston Pride and last season with the Connecticut Whale where she posted seven goals and nine assists in 31 total games.
  • Emily Janiga - Vanke Rays (R5, 35th-overall). Janiga graduated from Mercyhurst University with 72 goals and 79 assists in 141 games before joining the NWHL's Buffalo Beauts last season where she scored six goals and five assists in 17 games.
  • Ashleigh Brykaliuk - Vanke Rays (R6, 42nd-overall). The former captain of the UMD Bulldogs graduated with 62 goals and 83 assists in 146 NCAA games, and she was a dynamic scorer for Team Canada at the World U18 Championship. The Brandon, Manitoba native will certainly add scoring and depth for the Rays.
  • Mariya Sorokina - Markham Thunder (R10, 66th-overall). The Russian-born goalie won't supplant Knox or Howe immediately, but Sorokina has options. She won a bronze medal at the 2016 Women's World Championship, and her stock should rise if she gets to play against the best competition on the planet.
The full list of drafted players can be found here, but those players are the ones that caught my attention. There are still others who could be difference-makers on their new teams - Brooke Webster, Hanna Bunton, Sydney Kidd - so we'll see how next season breaks down as the players look to capture roster spots. For now, there were 113 players who will be welcomed into the league at some point in their careers, and the CWHL is better with all these players involved!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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