2015 CWHL Draft Preview: Time to Restock The Cupboards

Where and When:

The Draft is this Sunday, August 23rd, 2015. We expect to see things kick off at 3PM eastern.

To follow along, check out the CWHL’s Draft Live Tracker, or follow along on Twitter:

If you’re a Periscope user, I’d suggest following Krista Patronick, the Blades’ GM. She’s said a couple of times that she’s going to try to stream portions of the Draft on Periscope.

The teams will pick in reverse-order of how they ended the season– so, Brampton first, then Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Boston. Familiar so far, right? So, the trick comes that each player, when she registers for the draft, has to provide the geographic area where she is willing to play– Calgary, Montreal, Boston, or Toronto (and thus either the Furies or the Thunder). She can pick as many areas or as few as she wants. The Boston GM can only pick players who are willing to play in Boston, etc.

The Picks

To register for the Draft, players must have graduated from college, and neither have ever signed with a CWHL club, or be committed to another league. You can check out the entire draft pool after the league has posted it– it’s going to be up on their site some time today.

Some of the most high-profile and notable players in this year’s draft include Marie Philip-Poulin, Hayley Wickenheiser, Brianne Jenner, Elizabeth Tremblay, and Katia Clement-Heydra.

Marie-Philip Poulin

Marie-Philip Poulin is notable because she has played in the CWHL before. When she was 16, Poulin played for the Montreal Stars during the 2007/08 season, and in fact was named Rookie of the Year, before going on to win the Clarkson Cup with Montreal in 2008/09. Poulin has been very open about the fact that she has only declared Montreal as the area she’s willing to play in, so expect to see her go to the Stars again. I’ve also been told by the CWHL that Poulin would be eligible again for the Rookie of the Year award, as it is her first drafted year.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Poulin is a great player, and a huge asset for Montreal to pick up. Poulin had 181 points in 111 career games with the Terriers, and held the captaincy as well in her senior year. She’s been nominated for the Patty Kaz twice, and was a top-3 finalist in 2015, her senior year. When she graduated, she left BU as the all-time leader in goals (81), assists (100) and points (181). Aside from her college career, Poulin has been rather prominent on the international stage for Canada. She’s won Olympic gold twice, in 2010 and 2014, as well as gold at 2012 Women’s Worlds. She has the unique distinction of being the only player to have scored the game-winning goal in every Olympic gold medal game that she’s been in, earning her the nickname of “Noted US Dream Ruiner” among several Watch This writers. She’s a great two-way, defensive forward with the confidence and skill to also make big moves on her own, and one who makes every player she plays with better and more cohesive.

Hayley Wickenheiser

Wick is a legend, and rightfully so. Hayley Wickenheiser is a 5-time Winter Olympic medalist who has been on Canada’s National Team since she was 15, and has the Order of Canada. She’s also represented Canada at the Summer Olympics once, for softball. She got silver at Nagano in 1998, and gold in 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014. She captained the Canadian National Team starting in 2006 after Cassie Campbell retired, up until right before the 2014 Sochi Olympics. She was named the tournaments’ most valuable player in the 2002 and 2006 Olympics.

She also made history as the first female skater to play professional men’s hockey. In 2003, she got her first point with Kirkkonummen Salamat of the Finnish second division men’s professional league. Wickenheiser also played in Eskilstuna, Sweden with a men’s professional division-one hockey team for the 08-09 season. She was also offered an invitation to the Philadelphia Flyer’s rookie camp in 1998.

Wickenheiser has said that she has only listed Calgary as a geographic location she’s willing to go to, so expect to see her in an Inferno jersey.

Brianne Jenner

Brianne Jenner is an Olympic gold medalist (2014, with Canada), and a graduate of Cornell, where she played all four years. She put up 229 points in a 129 game career with the Big Red, 93 goals and 136 assists. She’s a beast. I’d expect to see her in the top forwards in the CWHL next season. She’s going to grad school in Calgary, so expect to see her on the Inferno.

Team Drafts

Brampton Thunder

Brampton. Oh Brampton.

Brampton desperately needs some forwards who can keep up with Jamie Lee Rattray, Jess Jones, and Laura Fortino. The three of them had about 40% of the team’s points put together last season, which isn’t really a great sign.

They’ve had a rough time in net, as well. Liz Knox put up a .888 save percentage for them in 11 games, and Erica Howe, who started 13 games, put up a .896 sv%, which is not at all what I’ve been used to seeing from her when she was at Clarkson or on Team Canada. Sonja van der Bliek was dealing with injury last season, but hasn’t been starter material in the past either. I wouldn’t expect to see Howe back for Brampton– she was at the Buffalo Beaut’s try out camp, and while she hasn’t signed with the NWHL, it does mean that she’s likely been released from the CWHL (possibly with a one year league suspension if she didn’t ask to get released before she tried out).

Defense has been a particularly rough spot for Brampton– I feel like a lot of it has been a coaching / style mismatch with their goaltenders rather than necessarily their players, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brampton go for defenders in the draft.

Toronto Furies

Well, first off, Toronto is not losing Jenelle Kohanchuk! If they’ll lose anyone else from last year is, as always, kind of crapshoot to predict.

That said, Toronto could stand to pick up some depth scoring in the draft, and in generally, really needs to work on defense, and their away game. Their team save percentage was the second lowest in the league, and there’s a noticeable down-tick in their stats on the road. So, what are they going to do in the draft? It’s always hard to predict in the CWHL, as it’s hard to know what holes the team will be trying to fill, but as always, a good bet is forward depth and defense.

Montreal Stars

This might be a somewhat unpopular opinion, but I really don’t think Montreal needs Poulin to win the Clarkson Cup this year. I think they need depth scoring and to pull things together on defense. Montreal finished in a very close top three teams last year, and they have some rockstar talent already in Ann-Sophie Bettez, Caroline Ouellette, and Noémie Marin. While I think you’d have to be downright silly to turn down Poulin, I think the problem facing this team is spreading out the scoring from two or three hot players into depth, and not making Catherine Herron or Charline Labonté save your bacon all the time on defense.

That said, I’m really looking forward to seeing Poulin play with this team– it could be amazing.

Calgary Inferno

Calgary did a big rebuild last year, rebuilding their team to be fast and deadly on the front end. I’d bet Calgary continues in this line, but hopefully picking up some more defense and some depth scoring. This is also a team that’s had good but not outstanding goaltending– I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to pick up a goaltender, depending on who is available in the draft (or via a trade…?).

With Irwin’s health in question for this next season, that may be the place that Wickenheiser is expected to slide in, as another experienced top goal-scorer for the team. If Wick isn’t enough, Jenner is certainly going to add fire power.

Remember, Calgary also has a new coach this year– Scott Reid, the former assistant coach, replaced Kevin Haller, who was released toward the end of last season. Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid isn’t currently listed as an assistant coach, which she was last year. Several CWHL announcements around the Cup Tour mentioned Mikkelson-Reid as a player for Calgary– perhaps, post-baby, we’ll see her return to the ice as a player?

Boston Blades

Boston’s a bit of a gutted team right now, having lost almost all their team to the NWHL. If you look at last year’s roster, only eight players haven’t signed with the NWHL. Of those eight, the Blades are likely to lose a couple more. While I’d expect Tara Watchorn and Genevieve Lacasse to stay with the CWHL, both players were in the US to finish up grad school. With that done, I’d expect them to move to another CWHL team in Canada– I’m hearing possibly Calgary, which would make the Inferno a truely terrifying team to face. Jenny Potter only played six games with the Blades last season, and was named the head coach at Ohio State in April, so I’d be surprised if she sticks around.

Aside from the visible blow of losing serious high-end talent like Knight, Decker, Bellamy, and Duggan, one of the things that has made the Blades so much fun to watch and such a steam roller of a team has been their depth. The Blades have a new GM in Krista Patronick, a new coach in Brian McCloskey, a new arena, and essentially an entirely new roster. While the geographic limitations on player selection somewhat blunts the edge of this, the Blades have the last pick in the draft as well. It’s going to be an interesting season to watch the Blades.