In many ways the NWHL’s headlines (on the ice) have been dominated by rookie and first-year players this season.
Stars like Alex Carpenter, Haley Skarupa, Anne Schleper and Amanda Kessel joined the league over the offseason. But undrafted and unheralded players have also made a name for themselves playing their first professional hockey in the first half of the 2016-17 NWHL season.
Amazingly, the first ten picks of the 2015 NWHL Draft are not playing for the teams that drafted them. But each team has still had major contributions from rookie skaters this year.
Below is a table that shows the offensive production of each rookie and first year skater (distinguished as a player who is a few years removed from college play) through December 18th, 2016.
First-Year and Rookie Skaters
|NYR||Julia Cheeky Herr||F||5'3"||Y||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0.00|
Note: A primary point is either a goal or the first assist (“A1”) on a goal. Primary points tell us a lot about which players are directly involved in scoring plays, especially when we work with larger sample sizes. Consequently, they carry more weight than secondary assists.
So, how much has each NWHL team depended on their rookies for offense through the first half of the 2016-17 season? And which teams would be lost without the contributions of their rookies and first year players?
Let’s dig into the numbers.
Boston Pride: 18%
Almost one-fifth of the Pride’s offense this year have come from rookie their skaters. Well, really I should say that offense is coming from one skater: Alex Carpenter.
The 2015 first overall pick has managed to standout on a stacked Boston roster. Carpenter has nine primary points (second only to Kelly Babstock) in eight games this year. The only other primary point scored by a Boston rookie is an even strength goal buried by defender Lexi Bender.
It’s not surprising that Carpenter has been this good. She’s one of the best forwards in the world. But it’s also not surprising that the Pride have so few points from their other first-year players.
Boston is a team filled with experienced and established players. It’s not an easy lineup to crack.
Kathryn Tomaselli and Michaela Levine are rookies on the Pride’s practice squad, but they have played in seven games combined. Carpenter and Bender are the only two rookie skaters under contract for Boston. And, even with Hilary Knight missing seven games, they are also the only two who are regularly in the lineup.
Buffalo Beauts: 14%
The Beauts have ten rookie and first-year skaters this year. That is the most in the league. So, at first blush, it’s almost alarming to see how little the new faces have contributed to the team’s offense. But there’s a lot more to it than that.
And it’s also important to remember that Buffalo’s top two picks from 2015 are playing for the Riveters and Les Canadiennes.
Half of Buffalo’s first-year players are defenders. Three of those ten first-year players have played in four games or less this year.
So the lack of offensive production from rookies isn’t actually all that surprising. But, it’s still a problem for a team that has rarely had Kelley Steadman in the lineup this year.
The defensive trio of Schleper, Emily Pfalzer and Megan Bozek is one that any team in professional women’s hockey would love to have.
You can’t quantify the value of a world-class defender like Schleper with counting stats alone. The former Minnesota Whitecap’s single assist in her first six NWHL games might look like a slow start, but it’s important to remember that she doesn’t skate on the top power play unit. Her role on the team is to shut down the opposition’s offense, not to put points on the board.
Emily Janiga, who played her college hockey at Mercyhurst, is Buffalo’s most impactful first-year skater. She’s averaging over two shots a game and has four primary points in nine games this year. Janiga and Jacquie Greco are the only first-year players on the Beauts that have scored goals this year.
Sarah Casorso has two points in eight games and Jordyn Burns is still searching for her first point after being kept off the score sheet in her first seven NWHL games.
Connecticut Whale: 35%
Whale rookie forwards Nicole Connery, Nicole Kosta and Haley Skarupa have all been outstanding in the first half of the season. Any concerns about the Connecticut’s offense from the offseason after the loss of Kaleigh Fratkin and Shiann Darkangelo have been beached.
Although Dana Trivigno isn’t scoring as much as her rookie peers, she’s also been crucial to the Whale’s modest success this year. Trivigno is good enough to crack Team USA’s roster, so there is clearly more to the two-way forward’s game than her four points this year.
The Whale’s offense has been fueled by their rookie skaters this year. Those four aforementioned rookie forwards account for 45 percent of Connecticut’s goals this year. Which is amazing for a team that has studs like Kelli Stack and Kelly Babstock on it.
Skarupa’s red hot start has since slowed, but she still has an impressive eight primary points through her first seven NWHL games. When she’s on her game there’s very little that defenses can do to stop her. She averages over five shots a game and most of them seem to come at even strength. Nine of Skarupa’s ten points this year have come during five-on-five play.
Connery’s recent concussion and the departure of defenders Ivana Bilic and Molly Engstrom has put Connecticut in a very difficult position for the second half of the season. Bilic was quietly having an outstanding season and Connery has been integral to the Whale’s outstanding top six forward group.
The team’s already suspect depth will be put under a great deal of pressure. And the rookies who carried the Whale will need to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
New York Riveters: 34%
As many expected after watching the Riveters in the preseason New York’s rookies have been driving the team’s offense. But it’s not Kessel that is making things happen, it’s Harvard’s Miye D’Oench and BU’s Rebecca Russo.
Kessel has played in just one game this year. But the Riveters are still a team defined by the contributions of their rookie skaters and goaltenders.
D’Oench and Russo account for over a quarter (28.6 percent) of the Riveters’ primary points this year. The rookie duo are rarely on the ice at the same time, but their impact on the offense has been crystal clear. Russo leads all NWHL skaters in assists and D’Oench leads her team in goals.
No blue line in the league has more goals than New York’s eight this year. And the team’s three rookies have been a huge part of that. Courtney Burke (who missed five games) and Milica McMillen have two goals each this year. Last year the entire Riveters’ defense scored just three goals in the 18 game season.
New York’s other rookie defender, Michelle Picard, quietly has four points in her first ten games. But, like Schleper on the Beauts, she’s more of shut-down defender. Picard is still hunting for her first NWHL goal but she brings a lot of things to the table that you can’t find on the back of a hockey card.
Alexa Gruschow, Russo and D’Oench have all exceeded expectations in their own way. Gruschow and Russo have played their way onto New York’s top line And D’Oench has recently gotten back on track after being kept out of the box score for three games.