Story of the week: 2018 CWHL Draft
The 2018 CWHL Draft is this Sunday, so all eyes will be on the Mastercard Centre to find out where the latest crop of potential women’s hockey stars will land.
There are currently 67 players on the CWHL prospect list. At least 66 of them will be drafted. American Nina Rodgers recently signed with the Connecticut Whale, but has not removed herself from the list. If a team elects to draft her she could come into the CWHL in a future year as a free agent instead of having to go through the draft process again.
The process for the CWHL Draft starts with signing up. Unlike say, the NHL, players have to formally register to be drafted. This year’s registration fee was $150 (Canadian). This guarantees each player a tryout with the team that drafts them, and helps defray ice time and equipment costs for the tryouts.
When a player signs up to the draft, they can indicate up to three “Acceptable Locations” where they are willing to play. The locations are Calgary, the GTA, Montréal, Boston (now Worcester) and China. The GTA counts as two choices, and players cannot specify a preference for Markham or Toronto. Players interested in China should probably talk to the team beforehand, as they have a limited amount of spots for non-Chinese players. Players can change their location choices as late as this Thursday if their situation changes (or if a GM talks a good game).
Players are given so much control over where they want to play because the CWHL maximum salary is $10,000 — not enough to live on for a season in any of the locations. Interested fans will find hints as to where a player is likely to go based on their listed hometown or their college team. Shea Tiley, from Owen Sound, ON, who played with Clarkson University, just south of the Ontario border, isn’t likely to be going to Worcester. International players like Finnish Olympian Meeri Räisänen, however, could go just about anywhere.
Because players can straight out pick their team by submitting just one location choice, teams have in the past been able to advertise that a big name would be joining the team well in advance of the draft — Marie-Philip Poulin and Hayley Wickenheiser were announced as joining Montréal and Calgary respectively several months before their drafts actually took place.
Historically Markham and Toronto haven’t been able to get in on the fun before the day of the draft, since the two GTA teams were competing with each other for prospects. This year the league changed that by announcing a pre-signing window. Teams could court and sign all their draft picks in the first two rounds up to August 17.
Markham chose to use both of their slots, announcing their first pre-signing (Victoria Bach) a month ahead of the draft for maximum publicity. The draft order is in reverse order of the 2017-18 regular season standings, so this also meant that Markham had an opportunity to at least try to beat Toronto to a couple of players they were interested in. Due to the Erin Ambrose trade in late 2017, Toronto had three slots — their own picks and Montréal’s first round pick. However if the Furies have made any pre-signings (and GM Sami Jo Small seemed to indicate she was going to) they haven’t made any announcements as of yet.
Beyond the pre-signings, draft order isn’t much of a concern for teams outside of the GTA. While an early draft pick is still expected to be closer to a lock for a team’s roster than a later round pick, some GMs choose to select players who are able to attend the draft in person before those who are not. A player who has indicated multiple locations might also go earlier. Goalies, as with the NHL draft, usually fall to the later rounds as well.
How many rounds will there be? Too soon to tell. With players being able to choose their locations the numbers tend to be uneven, with the Blades often the last team standing. In 2017, with approximately 50 more players in the draft, all teams went 12 rounds, and Boston drafted alone after the 20th round.
This year’s draft includes six Olympians, eight players from outside North America, four North Americans who don’t appear to have played any college hockey, and twelve players with some level of elite or professional experience in a league somewhere in the world. It may not be the sort of draft an NHL fan is used to but there will still be lots of surprises in store.
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