So, the first two rounds of the 2018 NWHL Draft are in the books. Even though there have only been 10 picks made, we already have plenty to reflect on and break down.
Perhaps the most noteworthy wrinkle to this year’s draft is that four of the 10 players who were selected provided the NWHL with quotes that were tweeted by the league. This implies that in addition to NCAA coaches advocating for their players and working with Hayley Moore and the league, current college seniors were also in communication with the league.
We don’t yet know how much communication there was or has been between the prospects and the league, but this looks like a big step in the right direction for the NWHL Draft. This is an indication that at least some of the players who were drafted have an interest in playing in the league.
A message from Deputy Commissioner @HayleyMoore9: "Welcome to the 2018 #NWHLDraft! It’s been an exciting fall tracking a number of current seniors and watching their talent shine. Thank you to the college coaches for their communication and for advocating for their players." pic.twitter.com/b6AYZqFvCk— NWHL (@NWHL) December 19, 2018
One of the four players who provided a quote for the league was first overall pick Annie Pankowski. Pankowski is a star at the University of Wisconsin and was a late cut from Team USA’s 2018 Olympic roster. She’s also a California-native, which has some Metropolitan Riveters fans concerned about the likelihood of her signing with the team. However, it is worth noting that the Riveters have strong ties to the University of Wisconsin. Pankowksi is the third first overall pick in the history of the Riveters franchise.
Another major trend from the first two rounds is that nine of the 10 players selected are Americans. Furthermore, the first five picks of the draft all have strong ties to USA Hockey, including Megan Keller, Kelly Pannek, and Kali Flanagan. All three of those players won gold with USA at the Pyeongchang Olympics. Melissa Samoskevich, a Connecticut-native and the Whale’s 2nd overall pick, won gold with Team USA at the 2018 4 Nations Cup.
Loren Gabel, selected 8th overall by the Buffalo Beauts, was the only Canadian selected in the first two rounds of this year’s draft. Gabel is the NCAA’s top scorer with 14 goals and 18 assists in 16 games this season. She’s a serious contender for the Patty Kazmaier and might be the most dangerous offensive player selected thus far. Gabel was also one of the players who provided a quote for the NWHL, which is downright intriguing.
The Beauts likely waited on drafting Gabel so that they could take Keller in the first round. It certainly is nice to have a geographical advantage in signing Canadian talent. The Beauts selected two of the six Canadians in the 2017 Draft.
The highest-scoring players who weren’t selected in the first two rounds today are Minnesota-native and University of Minnesota star forward Nicole Schammel and Canadian Jessie Eldridge of Colgate University. They will be two names to keep an eye out for tomorrow in rounds three, four, and five of the draft.
Another thing worth keeping an eye on moving forward is where these draft picks call home. In the first two rounds there were only two players who were from the same state or province: Minnesotans Kelly Pannek and Sophia Shaver. So we shouldn’t be surprised if the Whitecaps draft a few more Minnesotans — perhaps including Schammel.
In the history of the NWHL Draft there have only been two European players selected — Lara Stalder and Denisa Krizova. Will the Connecticut Whale become the first team to draft a European in two consecutive drafts after the promising early returns of this year’s roster featuring Katerina Mrázová, Michelle Löwenhielm, and Meeri Räisänen? We’ll find out tomorrow.
Finally, this is the first time in NWHL Draft history that a goaltender wasn’t taken in the first two rounds. Last year, Katie Burt was the first overall pick and only goalie taken in the draft. The 2015 Draft set the high-water mark for the most goaltenders selected in a single draft class with three — Emerance Maschmeyer, Amanda Leveille, and Kimberly Newell. All three of those goaltenders are Canadian and have gone on to play in the NWHL or CWHL.