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It’s been a week since the PWHL’s Minnesota team made homegrown talent Taylor Heise the first overall pick in league history. For five hours, the six teams took turns walking up to the podium and drafting 15 players. Now, every team has got a roster of 18 players that will need to be completed come training camp time in November. Before then though, the PWHL will likely want to announce where each team will play and their names and colors.
The initial free agency period in which each team was allowed to sign three players was interesting to follow. Minnesota’s GM Natalie Darwitz opted for three players who had tied to the state of hockey and who could anchor her preferred style of play, a fast team focused on offense. She inked Kendal Coyne Schofield, Kelly Pannek and a blue liner that could shore up the defense and help make up for the system heavily oriented on offence.
Montreal’s GM Daniele Sauvageau, hit a grand slam, signing both the best player in the world, Marie-Philip Poulin and the best goaltender in the world, Ann-Renée Desbiens before adding power forward and Poulin’s life partner, Laura Stacey to the mix. As an important added bonus, both Poulin and Desbiens are from Québec and speak French, while Laura Stacey also said a few words in French when she was introduced to the media. The signings gave Montreal plenty of leadership and experience, but they certainly left room for young talent.
Boston’s GM Danielle Marmer signed Team USA leader and former captain Hilary Knight, young goaltender Aerin Frankel and Team USA’s best blue liner in Megan Keller, opting for a balanced strategy covering all positions from the get-go. While Knight was born in California, she had previously played in Boston with the NWHL’s Boston Pride with whom she won the inaugural Isobel Cup. When she was introduced to the media, Knight mentioned that she was excited to play for Boston, as it is Title Town and she was eager to keep the tradition going.
In Ottawa, GM Michael Hirshfeld didn’t opt for local talent Jamie Lee Rattray, signing forwards Emily Clark, Brianne Jenner and goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer, Desbien’s back-up on Team Canada. The nation’s capital therefore captures the reigning Olympic Games’ MVP and also secured have solid goaltending.
As for Toronto, Gina Kingsbury signed the face of EA’s NHL23 in Sarah Nurse, captured one of the world’s best blue liners in Renata Fast, who was identified as one of the hardest defensemen to play against by Montreal’s three players and net crasher Blayre Turnbull, who Desbiens deemed one of the hardest forward to handle for goaltenders.
Finally, former Val-d’Or GM in the QJMHL Pascal Daoust and now PWHL New York GM was the first to sign a Canadian player with an American Team when he inked Team Canada’s blueliner Micah Zandee-Hart after signing two talented American forwards in Alex Carpenter and Abby Roque. Throughout last week’s draft, Daoust kept on looking north of the border and added a whooping 11 Canadians to his roster.
It would be too long to go through the whole draft but suffice to say that Darwitz added another eight players with ties to Minnesota to her team, going for both identity and talent. Toronto was able to draft Canadian Olympian Natalie Spooner who had used the compassionate clause to ensure she could land in Toronto with her young family. As for Montreal, Sauvageau mentioned that she focused on offensive skills, because it’s easier to teach defense to offensive players than it is to teach offense to defensive players. Ottawa used its first three picks on blueliners and picked two Czech players and one German. Boston grabbed talented Swiss forward Alina Muller with its first pick, added plenty of offensive talent and excellent Swedish goaltender Emma Soderberg.
On Sunday, Montreal’s GM Daniele Sauvageau was part of the RDS broadcast team for the white vs red game and spoke about the PWHL. She didn’t reveal officially where the Montreal team will play, but she mentioned the Bell Centre, the Maurice Richard arena and the Verdun Auditorium, adding that people could draw their own conclusions. In other words, since the Centre 21.02 was built in readiness of a female professional team coming to Montreal and Sauvageau was its founder, it’s safe to assume it will be home to the Montreal side.
As for the name of the new team, Sauvageau seemed to hint that they would like to go for a brand-new name and identity, but she added that the fans would have their say. Seems like they do not want to go against what the market wants, especially after being criticized for appointing a coach who cannot speak French, some members of the media having deemed the appointment a faux pas.
It will be interesting to see which team invites which players to come to their training camp which will open in November, but I truly hope that by then we’ll have the team names, colors, venues and calendar…