As the NWHL embarks on a new and exciting chapter in American women’s ice hockey, its first milestone shall be the outcome of its inaugural Player Draft. With junior players from the NCAA eligible, the quality of talent ensures that each of the league’s charter teams shall be able to land its franchise player.
Destined to be the launching pad towards laying the foundation for an exciting future to come, the benefit of the Draft is that drafted players can return to their NCAA teams for their senior season of eligibility. It allows said players an opportunity to not only complete their education, but the extra season of NCAA play greatly reduces the pressure that some athletes face when making the jump from college to the pros.
Considering the talent that is available in the Draft, another exciting aspect is that players may go from rivals at the NCAA level to becoming teammates in the NWHL. While the possibilities are endless, the players selected in the opening round are destined to become part of a legendary part of league history, comprising its first draft class. As Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut and New York contemplate which first-round picks shall be the players they build their franchises around, a possible projection is as follows:
First pick overall: Alex Carpenter, Boston College
The winner of the 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award, Carpenter was also the captain for Team USA at the 2014 Four Nations Cup. The strong scoring skills and great instincts that Carpenter brings to the ice enable her to be the cornerstone of not just the franchise that selects her, but quite possibly, the entire NWHL.
A second generation star (her father Bobby is a former Stanley Cup champion) who broke numerous scoring records with the Boston College Eagles, she led all players in scoring during the 2014-15 NCAA season. Having also competed with the US at the Sochi Winter Games, Carpenter may be the brightest star in a new generation of players.
Second pick overall: Hannah Brandt, Minnesota
An exceptionally gifted scorer whose remarkable composure is sometimes unrecognized, Brandt is a can’t-miss prospect. The 2015 NCAA Frozen Four was certainly her finest hour. Playing her second consecutive season without Amanda Kessel, Brandt proved she was truly worthy of superstar status. Scoring the Frozen Four title-winning goal against Emerance Maschmeyer (who is also eligible for the NWHL Draft), she also finished in the NCAA scoring race, behind Carpenter.
Considering that Brandt was raised in Minnesota, it is not yet known if she would relocate to the Northeast to continue her career. Despite such speculation, Brandt’s talent makes her well worth the risk. In a sterling career filled with nothing but remarkable accomplishments, Brandt possesses that superstar quality that would see her duplicate such success at the NWHL level.
Third pick overall: Kendall Coyne, Northeastern
Should Brandt not be selected second overall due to her geographic location, expect Kendall Coyne to go second in her place. Well known to Boston hockey fans for her heroics with the Northeastern Huskies, her instant acceleration on the ice makes her a game changer.
Among a rare group of women who have played for the US at U18, U22 and Senior levels, she is one of the most underrated superstars in women’s ice hockey. During her sterling sophomore year, she joined Alex Carpenter in breaking the Hockey East conference record for most points scored in one season by Sadie Wright Ward. After just three seasons with the Huskies, she is already second all-time on the Huskies career goal scoring list with 91 goals. Ranking fourth in the NCAA during the previous season with 28 goals, she is a highly talented sniper that can deliver.
Fourth pick overall: Haley Skarupa, Boston College
A highly accomplished player who has skated alongside Alex Carpenter at Boston College, there is no question that Haley Skarupa will be given serious consideration by all NWHL clubs in the Draft. Registering a career-high 71 points during her outstanding junior season, the more impressive stat may be her team-best +62 rating.
Earning a spot on the Hockey East First Team All-Stars, she also played with the US National Team at the 2014 Four Nations Cup and the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds. Bringing strong leadership to the Eagles, she was a former captain at the JWHL level with the Washington Pride. If Skarupa somehow slips to the second round, the club that acquires Carpenter in the first would be wise to select her in the second. The two would comprise a dynamic duo that could result in hoisting the Isobel Cup.