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2017 CWHL Draft: Top prospects for the GTA

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Here are a few of the prospects the Furies and Thunder will be fighting over.

A puck balanced on top of the netting of a goalie net, with the CWHL logo facing the camera Dave Holland - CWHL

The 2017 Canadian Women’s Hockey League Draft takes place this Sunday in Toronto. As usual, this is a slightly more fraught process for the Toronto Furies and the Markham Thunder than it is for other teams in the league. In a concession to the realities of running a women’s hockey league where most of the players have second jobs, CWHL prospects have the ability to specify a preferred location when registering for the draft. While that makes the process relatively easy for three of the North American teams, prospects living in the GTA cannot specify a particular GTA team. That means the Furies and the Thunder participate in something that looks more like a traditional draft.

The players that CWHL teams will be drafting are not generally the fresh-faced teenagers that NHL fans might envision. Women’s hockey players almost always finish out their university eligibility before moving to professional hockey, and the vast majority of the women in the CWHL draft are 22 or older. For the first time in several years there are a few teenage prospects who petitioned for age exemptions to the league's limit of 20 years old but most of them already have experience in international play. Also, the level of play in Division I women's NCAA hockey is much closer to that of pro hockey than its men’s equivalent. Many CWHL draft picks are capable of jumping right onto a team out of university and contributing at a high level—as an example, CWHL Rookie of the Year last year, Laura Stacey, finished the year second in scoring on the Brampton (now Markham) Thunder.

So with all that in mind, what players should GMs Chelsea Purcell and Nicole Latreille angle for on Sunday? Here are some CWHL prospects from Southern Ontario (and one from very far away from Southern Ontario) that Markham and Toronto should be eyeing.

Cayley Mercer

Way back in May, I said that Cayley Mercer was my ideal outcome from the draft, and quite obligingly she submitted her name two weeks later (thanks, Cayley!). Mercer led the NCAA in goals last year with 28, tied Minnesota’s Kelly Pannek in points with 68, and was a top-three Patty Kazmaier finalist. Her name is familiar to anyone who watched the women’s NCAA championship game in March; she scored two goals in Clarkson’s 3-0 victory over Wisconsin, the first of which was past Patty Kazmaier winner Ann-Renée Desbiens.

It’s probably obvious, but Mercer would be my first-round pick. There’s a lot of talent in the GTA players in this draft, but when you can add the woman who scored the most goals in the NCAA last year to your roster, you do it. Toronto, especially, is need of offense—between centralization, retirement, and the lure of MODO Hockey, the Furies lost four of their top five scorers last year.

Hanna Bunton

A native of Belleville, Ontario, Hanna Bunton was one of the first players to sign up for the draft. A forward, she’s spent the past four years playing for Cornell University, and put up 29 points in 34 games her senior season. That’s certainly not as sparkling as Mercer’s numbers, but to put it in context, she was the top scorer on a good team that made it to the NCAA quarterfinals. Bunton was awarded Ivy League Player of the Year and was named to the ECAC Third All-Star team. She was also a member of the Canadian national development team that won a three game series against the US last December.

I would like to take a moment to thank Cornell for not putting its players’ names on their jerseys! That doesn’t make this harder at all!

The above video is from a February game against Union College. Bunton (#9) had a hat trick, and while the first goal is entertaining—after a neutral zone turnover by Union, she’s streaking down the ice on a two-on-one banging her stick for the pass and when she doesn’t get it, hammers the rebound into the empty net to get the goal anyway—the second one is even better. Starting at around 1:06 in the video, she steals the puck from a Union player her teammate has tied up along the boards, cuts straight into the slot and scores five-hole (I think) through at least two defenders.

At 5’9’’, Bunton’s on the taller side for a women’s player, and from her highlights she doesn’t shy away from physical contact. Since the CWHL tends to be more lax about what constitutes “body-checking”, Bunton might fit right in.

Kristyn Capizzano

Like Bunton, Kristyn Capizzano was a member of Canada’s gold-medal-winning U18 team in 2013—in fact, she captained that team—before joining the Boston College Eagles. Also like Bunton, she was part of last year’s Canadian U-22 team. She scored 24 points for BC last year, and came in third on her team in goals, while spending time on both the powerplay and the penalty kill. Three of her fourteen goals were on the powerplay, but two came shorthanded, so she’s a scoring threat on special teams in general. It’s also interesting to note how consistent her scoring has been over her four years at BC—her lowest-scoring season was 22 points, and her highest was 30.

Capizzano is on the smaller side—she’s listed at five foot two—but she’s got speed. Her best game last year was a hat trick against Syracuse, and the three goals, different as they are, serve as a nice illustration of her skillset.

The first one is a tip-in from the slot on the powerplay, the second is a beautiful example of using her speed to blow by the Syracuse defender (don’t miss the one-handed move as she cuts to the net, keeping the defender to the inside), but the third might be my favorite. Instead of driving straight to the net, Capizzano dishes the puck to Kenzie Kent in the corner, spins, and glides backwards into the big open space above the crease. As the Syracuse defender tries to lay out to block the pass, Kent sends the puck back to Capizzano, who’s waiting all alone and fires it over the poor Syracuse goalie’s shoulder with no trouble. It’s a clever, patient play, and I like clever and patient.

Lindsay Grigg

While Markham isn’t as desperate for scoring help as Toronto, making forwards less of a priority, a place where both teams need support is defense. They’re both losing defenders to centralization—Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast for the Furies, Laura Fortino and Jocelyne Larocque for the Thunder. So it follows that they both might have some interest in Lindsay Grigg, a former Buffalo Beaut who spent last season in the SDHL playing for HV71. Grigg had a solid NCAA career at Rochester Institute of Technology, captaining the team her senior season, but she only scored 2 points in 15 games with the Beauts. Her year with HV71 was a bit of a comeback, although whether that was from an adjustment of her role or a change in level of competition remains to be seen. She wore the A last year with HV71, and scored 19 points in 39 games.

Tragically, it’s not very easy to find highlights of SDHL games, but this clip of a Fanny Rask goal also includes Grigg (wearing #71) nearly managing an assist on a pass through traffic from below the goal line. The most interesting thing about this clip is how low she’s pinching—successfully, I might add. Grigg played both forward and defense at university, and one thing this clip makes clear is that she’s not a stay-at-home type.

Bulbul Kartanbayeva

An especially fun thing about this year’s CWHL draft is the number of nationalities represented. As was expected, the draft list is majority Canadian, along with a healthy number of Americans and the entire Chinese national team. However, there are also players from New Zealand, Japan, Turkey, France, Russia, Finland, and Kazakhstan. While some of those players are probably headed for one of the two Chinese teams, it’s entirely possible some aren’t, so let’s talk about Kazakh women’s national team player Bulbul Kartanbayeva.

It’s even harder to find EWHL highlights than it is to find SDHL highlights, but Kartanbayeva herself provided this clip of her and the Kazakh women’s team plastering Great Britain at this year’s Universiade. In five games at that tournament, she had four goals and no assists, at this year’s Divsion 1B Worlds she had one goal in five games, and in Olympic qualifiers she had one goal in six games. I think it’s safe to say that the woman likes to shoot the puck, and she’s got a pretty nice shot, too.

In a fun trivia side note, Kartanbayeva’s team last season, Aisulu Almaty, is also the former team of new Markham Thunder GM Chelsea Purcell. According to Elite Prospects, Purcell played a single game last season and Kartanbayeva played seven, so perhaps there’s a personal connection. Kartanbayeva also said on Twitter that she learned about the CWHL draft when she met Sami Jo Small of the Furies on Small’s visit to Kazakhstan this spring.

While much of the excitement of the upcoming draft surrounds the two new Chinese teams, who are in a novel and different situation from any of the teams in North America, there’s a lot of interest to be found for both the GTA teams. The Furies had significant player turnover this offseason, leaving them with an especially large gap at forward. The Thunder, meanwhile, have moved from Brampton to Markham and are going to want to establish themselves in a new neighbourhood—and what better way to do that than winning a lot?

The draft will be held this Sunday, starting at 4:00 pm EDT. We’ll have coverage of both Toronto and Markham’s picks after the draft, in the interest of GTA fairness.