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2018-19 NWHL Preview: Five returning players poised for a break out year

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Who has the potential to be a difference maker for her team this season?

Kelly Babstock
Pat McCarthy

As we get ready for the puck to drop on the NWHL’s fourth season, we take a look at five returning NWHLers who have the potential for a great season.

Amanda Kessel of the Metropolitan Riveters
Al Saniuk

Amanda Kessel, Metropolitan Riveters

Injury prevented Kessel from appearing in all but 8 games for the then New York Riveters in 2016-17. In those games, however, Kessel put up 18 points (4-14-18) or 2.25 points-per-game. She also scored a goal in the Riveters 4-2 loss to the eventual Isobel Cup Champion Buffalo Beauts. Missing the 2017-18 season due to the Olympics, Kessel returns to a familiar Riveters roster, albeit a little more seasoned.

With Miye D’Oench out until mid-November, Kessel will have to be the offensive spark she was in Season 2. Her familiarity with the roster will allow her to be a playmaker on an already impressive offensive team. Don’t expect her to put up the same points-per-game totals this season as she did her first with the Riveters. Expect her to get first or second line minutes, which should allow her to surpass her goals and points total from that season. As long as she can stay healthy, she will just add to the Riveters many offensive weapons.

Kelly Babstock sets up in front of Brittany Ott
Al Saniuk

Kelly Babstock, Buffalo Beauts

The hockey gods were not kind to Babstock last season—she scored four goals on 71 shots. Her 71 shots led the league last season. Although her production has diminished over the past two seasons, the Connecticut Whale’s offense did, too. (From 60 goals in 2016-17 to 26 in 2017-18).

This past summer Babstock shocked NWHL fans by signing with the Buffalo Beauts. The Beauts look to have a potent offense this season after bolstering their roster with Olympians from both sides of the border. The potential for being linemates with fellow shot-machine Hayley Scamurra should bolster Babstock’s offensive opportunities.

The Beauts’ system is built for offense. Last season, they had seven players with double-digit point totals (second behind the Riveters’ nine). Babstock’s style of play will make her the perfect fit on an already impressive squad. Expect her to put up numbers similar to her first two seasons.

Haley Skarupa
Michelle Jay

Haley Skarupa, Boston Pride

After an explosive rookie season with the Connecticut Whale (11 G-11 A-22 Pts), Skarupa took her talents to Boston for the 2017-18 season. She played five games with the Pride before being called into service by the US Women’s National Team. In the five games she played, Skarupa put up two goals and three assists. Unfortunately, the Pride struggled without their Olympians, going 4-8-4.

Entering Free Agency, the Pride’s franchise scoring leaders left for the CWHL (Hilary Knight returned to Les Canadiennes; Brianna Decker signed with the Inferno). Skarupa returning will provide the offensive leader Boston was missing last season. Should she return in the same fashion she left, there is no reason to believe she won’t be atop the NWHL offensive leader boards.

Metropolitan Riveters forward Alexa Gruschow and Boston Pride forward Dana Trivigno.
Metropolitan Riveters forward Alexa Gruschow and Boston Pride forward Dana Trivigno.
Al Saniuk

Dana Trivigno, Boston Pride

Trivigno put up virtually identical numbers in her second season as she did in her first (3 G-6 A-9 P 43 SOG & 3 G-5 A-8 P 46 SOG). During those seasons, she played for the two most inconsistent offenses in the NWHL - the Connecticut Whale & Boston Pride. This season, she returns to a Pride team who’s added an offensive threat with the return of Haley Skarupa.

Trivigno is poised to fill the void left by Janine Weber (who has not signed as of this writing). She led the Pride in face-off-win percentage (.577) and was fourth in points-per-game (0.62). Trivigno is in prime position to take the next step in her career and, with the right tools, will make a name for herself. Expect her to see second-line minutes and grow to be one of the leaders on the Pride for seasons to come.

Emily Fluke
Al Saniuk

Emily Fluke, Connecticut Whale

To say the Whale were a disappointment last season would be an understatement. One of the few bright spots was the play of rookie Emily Fluke. Overshadowed by Babstock’s struggles, Fluke quietly tied her for the team lead in goals (4). She also led the team in assists (7), points (11) and points-per-game (0.69). With Babstock’s departure, Fluke is poised to lead the Whales offense.

The Whale brought back/signed players who will not only compliment but elevate her game. Connecticut’s signing of highly coveted Nina Rodgers will only enhance Fluke’s offensive prowess. Expect Fluke to see top-line minutes as the Whale look to put 2017-18 in the rear-view mirror and climb from the cellar of the NWHL rankings.