On August 2nd the CWHL finalized their 2016 draft list. In total, 81 players from 6 different countries have registered for the draft, which takes place August 21st at the Mastercard Centre in Toronto.
It's the largest draft class since 2011, when players from the former Western Women's Hockey League joined the CWHL to form Team Alberta (now the Calgary Inferno). This is both great news for women's hockey and a tragedy for the women themselves. Last year only 38 out of a draft class of 55 players actually played a game in the 2015-16 season. It's likely that there will be even fewer open spots this season.
The active roster for each team is a maximum of 25 players. Those registered for the draft could fill over three teams all by themselves. Anyone who is able to attend their local team's tryouts in September will definitely witness some competitive hockey. In particular, watch out for the goalies - with 13 of them in the mix, even if all of last year's goalies retired en masse (note that Boston Blades starter Geneviève Lacasse still hasn't publicly committed to the upcoming season) there would still be three left out.
Unfortunately, I can't give an opinion on their quality of play - the only one I've really paid any attention to on the ice is goalie Emerance Maschmeyer, who had a break-out performance on Team Canada at this year's World Championships. Are all of them national team calibre players? According to Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, no. But only 23 women in the country make the national team and it takes more than 23 players to make a hockey league.
Emerance Maschmeyer makes a save vs Meghan Duggan at the WWHC 2016 (credit @cwhlhighlights)
This year's draft class comes from all over. Joining Maschmeyer, there are national team (and former national team) players from Russia, Japan, France and Mexico. There are collegiate players from NCAA Division I, Canadian Interuniversity Sports, NCAA Division III, and the American Collegiate Hockey Association, as well as from Japan and France. A number of these players have also met in international Universiade competition. There's even a couple of former NWHLers.
Almost a third of the players who registered for the draft are American. Kudos definitely go to Blades GM Krista Patronick for her recruiting - last year's Blades will have to prove they're good enough to stay on the team. However, I don't think it's unreasonable to attribute some of this somewhat unexpected bounty to the NWHL.
The CWHL will celebrate its 10th season this coming year and has certainly had high calibre American players in the past, but the NWHL's blitz internet marketing campaign may well have inspired players who believed their hockey careers were over to at least give it one last shot. Most introductory articles about the NWHL mentioned the CWHL at least in passing. A few of the players on this year's list also attended at least one of the Free Agent Camps the NWHL held this summer, and 29 players from both sides of the border chose not to sign up to the CWHL draft until the very last day - after the NWHL deadline had passed.
One thing is certain - over one league or two, there are more than enough women's hockey players ready and willing to play beyond the college level. While the CWHL's plan to offer salaries in the 2017-18 season will probably take precedence over any expansion plans, hopefully expansion isn't too far off.
One way to encourage expansion is to support the teams that already exist! CWHL season tickets are already onsale.