2018 CWHL Draft: Established players to keep an eye on

Not every noteworthy player who registered for the CWHL Draft has already signed with their team.

The 2018 CWHL Draft is right around the corner, the prospect list is set, and we have already seen a bevy of pre-draft signings. But there are some noteworthy names who did not sign with CWHL teams before the draft, including two Olympic goaltenders and an Isobel Cup Champion.

Let’s take a look at four established players who have registered for the draft and examine what they could bring to the teams that pick them.

Alex Rigsby | Goaltender

It’s hard to believe that Alex Rigsby is only 26 considering how much she has already accomplished in her career. She may not have played in a game at the 2018 Olympics, but she still brought home a gold medal as a member of Team USA.

The University of Wisconsin alumna has also won a national title and four gold medals at the Women’s Worlds. Oh, and she was the first woman ever drafted in the USHL. So, yeah, you could say that Rigsby is a pretty big deal.

Rigsby playing for the Calgary Inferno would make sense for a lot of reasons. First, she’s best friends with Blayre Turnbull, who will be back with Calgary after winning silver with Team Canada in Pyeongchang.

Playing in Calgary would also reunite Rigsby with a few of her Olympic teammates from Pyeongchang, including defender Kacey Bellamy. Perhaps most importantly, the Inferno appear to have an opening in the crease now that Delayne Brian has retired.

With all of that being said, the Worcester Blades could use some star power in a big, bad way. Rigsby would be a great addition to a Blades team that is hoping to find a new beginning and a bigger fan base in Worcester.

Tori Hickel | Defender

Tori Hickel won an SDHL title in 2017 with Djurgården — and yes, she’s Zoe Hickel’s little sister. Given where her sister signed earlier this offseason, it would make a lot of sense for the Inferno to draft Hickel, but nearly every CWHL team could use some help on the blue line. Well, maybe not the Markham Thunder, but pretty much everyone else.

Hickel is unafraid of the physical aspect of the game and it looks like she may have added some offense to her game last season in the SDHL.

It’s also worth mentioning that Hickel played both forward and defense at Northeastern University. That versatility — and her experience playing college hockey in Massachusetts — would make her a great fit for the Blades.

Tatiana Rafter | Center

Tatiana Rafter is a shoot-first center who has already proven she can score goals at the professional level. She has good size, great speed, and great hands around the net. For the past two seasons the Canadian center has provided the Metropolitan Riveters with valuable depth down the middle.

After winning the Isobel Cup with the Rivs in the spring, Rafter decided it was time for her to play hockey closer to home and register for the draft.

So, where will Rafter land on draft day? Well, given her Winnipeg, Manitoba roots, the CWHL’s westernmost franchise makes a lot of sense.

When she graduated from the University of British Columbia, Rafter had a lot of interest in signing with the Calgary Inferno. Now, four years later, the Inferno look like the perfect fit for the Manitoban.

Rafter has aspirations to play for Team Canada in the Beijing Olympics. The Inferno have access to a lot of resources that other CWHL franchises don’t because of their rink. They also have a roster stocked with world class talent from both sides of the Canada-USA rivalry.

Meeri Räisänen | Goaltender

Last season Räisänen took home a bronze medal with Team Finland at the Pyeongchang Games and earned the nod as the Naisten Liiga’s Best Goaltender. She’s played pro hockey against men and women and is currently at the top of her game. So, naturally, Räisänen is looking for a new challenge, and she has her eyes set on the CWHL.

From The Ice Garden’s Meredith Foster:

Räisänen’s best hockey would be an incredible asset to any team in the CWHL. She’s open-minded about a potential landing spot and mentioned Calgary, Toronto, and Boston as possibilities but says, “We will see what happens at the draft.” She’s also careful to mention that nothing is certain yet.

The Toronto Furies signed former Vanke Rays goaltender Elaine Chuli, but that shouldn’t rule them out as a landing spot for Räisänen — after all, it looks like 2018-19 will be the season of stellar goalie tandems in North American professional women’s hockey. Why not have one more in Toronto, Calgary, or Worcester?

Playing in the CWHL should provide Räisänen with an opportunity to step into the spotlight and out from Noora Räty’s shadow. Given what she’s accomplished in Europe over the last decade, it’s safe to say that any CWHL team would be lucky to have her.