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Breaking down past NWHL Drafts

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Let’s look at where past NWHL Draftees have ended up

Next week will be the NWHL’s fourth draft. For the first time, it will be held mid-season and teams will be drafting current college seniors rather than being held in the summer with teams drafting rising college seniors.

The NWHL’s previous three drafts have produced some interesting results, so let’s take a look at where players ended up...

2015

*the list only notes where the player went the season directly after being drafted

Al Saniuk

First round:
1. Alex Carpenter (NYR) - played for Pride
2. Hannah Brandt (CTW) - played for the then-independent Whitecaps
3. Kendall Coyne (BOS) - played for the then-independent Whitecaps
4. Courtney Burke (BUF) - played for Riveters

Second round:
5. Haley Skarupa (NYR) - played for Whale
6. Michelle Picard (CTW) - played for Riveters
7. Emerance Maschmeyer (BOS) - entered CWHL draft, played for Calgary
8. Sarah Lefort (BUF) - entered CWHL draft, played for Montreal

Third round
9. Erin Ambrose (NYR) - entered CWHL draft, played for Toronto
10. Milica McMillen (CTW) - played for Riveters
11. Lexi Bender (BOS) - played for Pride
12. Amanda Leveille (BUF) - played for Beauts

Fourth round
13. Dana Trivigno (NYR) - played for Whale
14. Maryanne Menefee (CTW)
15. Miye D’Oench (BOS) - played for Riveters
16. Emily Janiga (BUF) - played for Beauts

Fifth Round
17. Kimberly Newell (NYR)
18. Cassandra Poudrier (CTW) - entered CWHL draft, played for Montreal
19. Shannon MacAulay - entered CWHL draft, played for Thunder
20. Jenna Dingeldein (BUF) - entered CWHL draft, played for Furies

Being the first year of the draft and the league, I’d wager many didn’t know what to expect.

Of the 20 players, 10 did not join the NWHL in the 2016-17 season. Two — Hannah Brandt and Kendall Coyne — opted to play with the then-independent Whitecaps while six registered for the CWHL Draft and went on to play in that league. Two didn’t play professional women’s hockey the year after they were drafted, though Newell has made a return as a goalie in the CWHL. Three players went on to play with the teams they were drafted with while seven played the next season with a different team.

Players who didn’t play in the next season: 10 - 50%
Players who played for a different team than drafted: 3 - 15%
Players who played for the same team: 7 - 35%

From the 10 players who played from 2015 Draft Class, only eight are still active in the league. The top draft pick — Alex Carpenter — currently plays in China with the CWHL while Milica McMillen is currently an assistant coach at Ohio State. However, Brandt and Coyne have joined the league to play with the Whitecaps, bringing the number back up to 10, just a different 10 then the season right after the draft.

2016

*the list only notes where the player went the season directly after being drafted

Michelle Jay

First round:
1. Kelsey Koelzer (NYR) - played for Riveters
2. Lee Stecklein (BUF) - centralized with Team USA for 2018 Olympics
3. Dani Cameranesi (CTW) - centralized with Team USA for 2018 Olympics
4. Ann-Renee Desbiens (BOS) - centralized with Team Canada for 2018 Olympics

Second round:
5. Sydney Daniels (NYR) - played for Boston
6. Cayley Mercer (BUF) - entered CWHL Draft, played for Vanke Rays
7. Andie Anastos (CTW) - returned to NCAA to play basketball for BC
8. Sarah Nurse (BOS) - centralized with Team Canada for 2018 Olympics

Third round:
9. Jenny Ryan (NYR) - played for Riveters
10. Hayley Scamurra (BUF) - played for Beauts
11. Mellissa Channell (CTW)
12. Ashleigh Brykaliuk (BOS) - entered CWHL draft, played Vanke Rays

Fourth round:
13. Sydney McKibbon (NYR)
14. Emma Woods (BUF) - entered CWHL draft, played Vanke Rays
15. Paige Savage (CTW) - played for Whale
16. Halli Krzyzaniak (BOS) - centralized with Team Canada for 2018 Olympics

Fifth round:
17. Amy Menke (NYR) - played with SDHL’s Djurgårdens IF
18. Maddie Elia (BUF) - played for Beauts
19. Sydney Rossman (CTW) - played for Whale
20. Lara Stalder (BOS) - signed with SDHL’s Linköping HC

The second year of the draft actually had worse percentages than the first, though it is in part due to centralization.

Of the 20 players drafted, 13 did not play in the NWHL in the next season. Of those, five went to centralized with Team USA’s and Team Canada’s programs. Anastos returned to BC to play basketball. Two went to the CWHL, two to the SDHL, and two did not play anywhere the following season.

Five players played with the team they were drafted by, including two who played for their teams as soon as their college seasons were done — Koelzer and Scamurra. Two players signed with different teams than they were drafted too.

Players who didn’t play in the next season: 13 - 65%
Players who played for a different team than drafted: 5 - 25%
Players who played for the same team: 2 - 10%

Seven players from the 2016 Draft Class currently play in the league, but, like we saw with the last draft class, it is a different seven than those who played in the season right after the draft. Stecklein and Cameranesi returned from the Olympics to sign with teams while Daniels and Savage no longer play in the league.

2017

*the list only notes where the player went the season directly after being drafted

Michelle Jay

First round:
1. Katie Burt (BOS, acquired in Hickel trade) - played for Pride
2. Kennedy Marchment (BUF) - signed with SDHL’s Linköping HC
3. TT Cianfarano (RIV) - returned to NCAA to play hockey for Clarkson
4. Kenzie Kent (BOS) - returned to NCAA to play lacrosse for BC

Second round:
5. Sam Donovan (CTW) - played for Whale
6. Savannah Harmon (BUF) - played for Beauts
7. Victoria Bach (RIV) - entered CWHL Draft, played for Thunder
8. Mallory Souliotis (BOS) - played for Pride

Third round:
9. Eden Murray (CTW) - entered CWHL Draft, played for Inferno
10. Brittany Howard (BUF) - entered CWHL Draft, played for Furies
11. McKenna Brand (RIV) - played for Pride
12. Lexie Laing (BOS) - returned to NCAA to play hockey for Harvard

Fourth round:
13. Denisa Krizova (CTW) - played for Pride
14. Annika Zalewski (BUF) - played for Beauts
15. Toni Ann Miano (RIV) - played for Pride
16. Lauren Kelly (BOS) - played for Pride

Fifth round:
17. Nina Rodgers (CTW) - played for Whale
18. Amy Schlagel (BUF) - played for Whitecaps
19. Rebecca Leslie (RIV) - entered CWHL Draft, played for Inferno
20. Julia Fedeski (BOS) - entered CWHL Draft, played for Furies

The third draft featured a much more even spread.

Nine players who were drafted are not playing in the NWHL this season. Of them, three returned to the NCAA, including Cianfarano who left Quinnipiac in favor of Clarkson in one of the offseason’s more surprising moves. Seven players signed with the team they were drafted with, while four signed with different teams.

Players who didn’t play in the next season: 9 - 45%
Players who played for a different team than drafted: 7 - 35%
Players who played for the same team: 4 - 20%

Putting it all together

Sixty players have been drafted into the NWHL. Thirty-two of them — 53 percent — did not play in the league in the season directly after they were drafted, though five of them do play in the league now. Two NWHL draft picks currently play in the SDHL and 18 are in the CWHL.

That leaves 28 players who went on to play in the league in the next season — 15 for the team that drafted them, 13 for a different team. Of that group, four players are no longer in the league and four players now play for a different team then they initially played for.

Players who didn’t play in the next season: 32 - 53%
Players who played for a different team than drafted: 15 - 25%
Players who played for the same team: 13 - 22%

It is important to remember that the draft is not a binding contract, like you’d typically see in men’s sports drafts (such as the NHL). Teams do not own the rights to players. Players do not even register for the draft. Women’s hockey is not paying living wages, either. Players are signing where they have full time jobs or where it is most convenient to their living situations. In other words, they have little incentive to sign with the teams that drafted them.

Another wrinkle in all of this is that after the NWHL’s first draft, teams had to trade unsigned prospects of their own and cap space in order to sign the picks of other teams. One example of this is the Alex Carpenter for Miye D’Oench trade that took place on April 26, 2016. However, this was seemingly abandoned by the league after the 2015 Draft.

One interesting anomaly in all of this is Nina Rodgers. The Minnesota native and Boston University alumna was drafted by the Whale, then registered for the CWHL Draft, but eventually signed by Connecticut. Rodgers most likely was keeping her options open by registering for the CWHL Draft. In order to play in the CWHL, a prospective player must register for the draft and pay a fee.

What is perhaps most noteworthy in looking back at the NWHL’s previous drafts is that the number of NWHL draft picks who later went on to register for the CWHL draft has only slightly gone down year to year — six in 2015, three in 2016 (though looking who left for centralization that number becomes five), and four players in 2017. The players that did go to the CWHL have been overwhelmingly Canadian. Which, given the economic realities of playing professional women’s hockey in North America and issues with visas, is not at all surprising.

It will be worth keeping an eye on how many Canadian players are drafted by the NWHL’s five franchises next week. For example, the Riveters drafted two top Canadian prospects in 2017 that went on to sign with CWHL teams for the 2018-19 season. So, will we see the number of Canadian-born NWHL picks drop? Will Buffalo’s proximity to the GTA give them an edge on signing Canadian talent? Will teams change their tactics now that they are drafting prospects who are in the middle of their senior seasons instead of rising seniors? We will soon find out.

The bottom line here is that when we do see the next wave of NWHL draft picks next week, we will still have no way of knowing how many of them will sign with the teams that drafted them. For the most part, the NWHL Draft remains largely ceremonial.