A new era in hockey took off as the Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL) was officially announced on Tuesday. It will consist of six teams, including one in Toronto, and we are very excited about covering it all here at PPP.
September will be a busy month for the league, as the bulk of each team's rosters are going to be decided. First up, a special free agency period from Friday until September 10th where each team will be allowed to sign three players to Standard Player Agreements (SPAs). These first 18 players are going to consist of some of the biggest stars in hockey, and will form the bedrock of each Original Six team ahead of the PWHL Draft on September 18th.
The biggest question I had when watching the press conference was who were going to be those first 18 players? There's going to be many factors for the (to be named) GMs to decide. Skill level, position, leadership, and marketing. That narrows down some of the choices (like Jillian Dempsey in Boston and Marie-Philip Poulin in Montreal), but also creates some tough decisions.
I did my best over the last day and a half, along with the team here, to come up with the best 18 players (or as it turned out, 32) that would represent the league and their teams the best. I came up with three skater options, a goalie, and an honourable mention (sometimes also a goalie) to give me a shortlist of five players (seven for Toronto because you can't stop me).
Cathy made an excellent point while thinking through the rosters, the draft, and the league. They all want a nicely competitive league with some level of parity at the start. In order to give players a level of stability, trades are not allowed until after the first game of the season. If a team gets boned at the Draft and doesn't select a goalie, it ends up being a big headache for that team to be competitive.
Plus, every team is going to want "their goalie" between the pipes and not have the most important position in the sport be a big headache for a whole season. As a result, don't be surprised if all six teams sign a top tier goalie with one of their three slots. Some will be no-brainers, others will be reaches, but for the betterment of the team as a whole.
Another big consideration is locality. Salaries are going to be $35k USD minimum in the first year (with regular raises of 3%), with six three-year contracts guaranteed at $80k minimum also getting handed out. For some, hockey will be their livelihood for possibly the first time ever. For most, they'll still need a day job.
Women's hockey has never been in the business of uprooting a player's life for the sake of a trade or a draft, and it won't be until they make "buy a house with movers" money. As a result, don't be surprised if players end up on their hometown teams, or at least where they played most recently.
Last consideration is reputation in the local community. Some players are faces of hockey in their cities, like Jillian Dempsey in Boston, and MPP in Montreal, and Sarah Nurse in Toronto. They were all no-brainers, and it would be as wild for me to leave Dempsey off the list as it would be to put Nurse in Ottawa.
Thank you for reading that whole preamble. Let's get into the list!
Jillian Dempsey (C)
Hilary Knight (RW)
Megan Keller (LD)
The Goalie: Alex Cavallini (G)
HM: Alex Carpenter (LW)
As I said before, Jillian Dempsey is Boston. She captained the Boston Pride for six years, she's played 10 consecutive years of professional hockey in Boston between the PHF, NWHL, and CWHL, and she was the captain at Harvard. The 32-year-old from Massachusetts was the easiest pick I made.
Next up are a pair of USA Hockey superstars that you'll know quite well. Hilary Knight and Megan Keller. Both with long histories in Boston, and both going to be absolutely hated by us fans here in Toronto.
USA's triple gold winner, Alex Cavallini, has been playing in the Northeast, so if Boston wants to solidify their goaltending before the luck of the draft bears down on them, they might sign the 31-year-old early.
My last pick, the honourable mention, was Alex Carpenter. Assistant captain on Team USA from the state of MA (I can't spell it out again).
Marie-Philip Poulin (C)
Jamie Lee Rattray (C/LW)
Jaime Bourbonnais (RD)
The Goalie: Ann-Renée Desbiens (G)
HM: Jocelyne Larocque (LD)
We start with two of my favourite players in hockey, whose pictures I'll be forced to burn in a couple weeks. MPP, Captain Canada, and Jamie Lee Rattray, the woman who wouldn't quit even if she was dead. Rattray was the MVP for the Markham Thunder back in the CWHL, but got cut by the national team in 2017. She fought all the way back making it back onto Team Canada, scoring nine points in seven games at the 2022 Olympics.
I'll cover the goalie next before the defenders. Ann-Renée Desbiens is Canada's goalie and a household name in Montreal and Canada. She's one of the obvious goalie choices as a free agent before the Draft.
We have two defenders next who could both be heading the draft based on what happens when you count to three. First, we have "the cop" Jocelyne Larocque, who's a veteran of Canada's back end, anchoring their first pair and penalty kill. At 35, she's a known commodity in the market and a popular player in every way.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have Jaime Bourbonnais, a soon-to-be 25-year-old from Mississauga, but Francophone at heart. She's spent a few years playing in Montreal with the PWHPA and made the national team at the WWC this past spring.
Abby Roque (C)
Lee Stecklein (LD)
Hannah Brandt (C)
HM: Kelly Pannek (C)
The Goalie: Maddie Rooney (G)
Minnesota has so many hockey players, it's incredible what their local programs have accomplished. First on the roster should be Abby Roque, superstar for the USA and the first Indigenous player (Wahnapitae First Nation) to skate for the USA. She's joined by Lee Stecklein, the first pair defender for the USA, and Hannah Brandt, the first line centre (or center) for the USA.
What will be difficult is choosing only two of these players if the team want to sign Maddie Rooney, one of the USA's goalies. Kelly Pannek was the 3C on the USA, so they're spoiled for choice in the forests over there. Regardless of who they get before the draft, Minnesota will be an instant juggernaut.
Erin Ambrose (RD)
Ella Shelton (LD)
Blayre Turnbull (C)
The Goalies: Amanda Leveille (G)
HM: Geneviève Lacasse (G)
As is always the case with the middle arm of Canada, Ottawa is mostly going to have to pry players away from Toronto and Montreal. They'll have chances as those two cities have tonnes of talent, including the likes of Rattray or Bourbonnais in the more-likely case Desbiens gets signed instead, or a number of promising young players from Toronto that we'll get into later.
Ella Shelton is one of the best young (offensive) defenders in the league and it would be a coup if Ottawa got her along with the household name of Erin Ambrose. I'm a fan of Shelton and what she's been able to do with the bottom half of Canada's forward group. We'll see where she ends up, but I love the mentorship opportunities she could have with Erin Ambrose (from Toronto and 1RD for Canada) in the stall next to her.
Blayre Turnbull is one of those forwards on Canada playing way below her station. She'll get the chance to become a big player in the six-team league, and Ottawa might be the place for the King City Kid.
Ottawa will have lots of options with the plethora of talent that won't be able to get locked up in Montreal and Toronto, as well as local girls like Erica Howe, Rebecca Leslie, and Samantha Cogan. I've included former PHF goalie, Amanda Leveille, who was second in save percentage playing on the Minnesota Whitecaps.
As honourable mention I bring Emerance Maschmeyer's wife, Geneviève Lacasse, who is still running into pucks at 34. Commuting in opposite directions would be tough, but there's also a small chance they goalie fight each other at centre ice. Or they could be teammates in Toronto!
Amanda Kessel (RW)
Hayley Scamurra (LW)
Kennedy Marchment (RW)
The Goalies: Aerin Frankel (G), Abby Levy (G)
Aerin Frankel (24) is widely considered to be the best goalie in hockey, or at least in the USA. She's sublime and going to be for a long time. Abby Levy (23) just graduated and is a 6'1" protege of USA Hockey who also calls New York home. New York could pull the trigger and nab two of the best young goalies in the sport and dust their hands for the next ~10 years between the pipes.
Up front, you may be surprised to see Amanda Kessel on the list, doesn't she work for the Penguins? However, when she was hired, she said she's stepping away from the national team to work for the Penguins ahead of the PWHL season that she plans to play in, so she's available. Kessel is a massive name in the sport and having her in New York would be a big win for the marketing department.
Kennedy Marchment was the Connecticut Whale's leading scorer, and was right behind Loren Gabel, who we'll talk about later. She's one of the best players out of the PHF, so if she doesn't get an early contract, she'll be in the mix with the national team players high in the draft. She and Hayley Scamurra (bottom-sixer for the USA) might be on the outside looking in, especially since I'm sure I missed one or two big names (psst, KCS) that might bite the bullet and move to the Big Apple.
Sarah Nurse (LW)
Renata Fast (RD)
Natalie Spooner (RW)
The Goalie: Emerance Maschmeyer (G)
HM: Loren Gabel (C), Claire Thompson (LD), Mikyla Grant-Mentis (C)
This was hard. Toronto is going to have the pick of the litter when it comes to talent from this region. Sarah Nurse is penned in for day 1 as one of Canada's best players. Renata Fast's name speaks for herself. Natalie Spooner is planning to make a return to hockey from mat leave, so she'll be in high demand.
But there's also Brianna Jenner, Rebecca Johnston, Claire Thompson, Kristen O'Neill, Emily Clark, Micah Zandee-Hart, and Ashton Bell who could all draw claim for these first spots. And moving away from the national team, there's also Loren Gabel and Mikyla Grant-Mentis. Gabel is the PHF MVP from last season and prolific scorer both there and in the PWHPA. Grant-Mentis sprung onto the scene with the NWHL Buffalo Beauts following her college. The local girl was the star for the Toronto Six before going back to the Beauts last season.
We'll see who Toronto chooses, whoever they pick will be a surprise, but definitely not a shock. The hope for Toronto is they get to retain as much talent as they can through the draft and not have too many of their best players syphoned off to Ottawa, New York, and elsewhere.
Stars of the Future:
Sarah Fillier (C), Cayla Barnes (RD), and Caroline Harvey (LD) are three among a growing list of young hockey stars who won't be participating in the inaugural PWHL season because they are still in the NCAA. Fillier and Barnes are ineligible to be signed or drafted by a PWHL team until next summer when they graduate. Credit to Hailey Salvian for asking for clarification on this rule during the PWHL press conference on Tuesday.
Lastly, I wanted to shout out the resources I used to compile this list. Finding players from Team Canada, Team USA, the PWHPA, PHF/NWHL, and SDHL was difficult. Special thanks to articles by Erica Ayala and Hailey Salvian at The Athletic, Elite Prospects, the national team websites, the PHF website (that has now shut down), the PWHPA website, the PWHL website, The Ice Garden, The Victory Press, and our own WWC coverage. If you want to read the CBA, it's here. As women's hockey hopefully grows, and hopefully as you all gain interest in the sport, finding the spaces and people that do the best work will make it all even more enjoyable.