This year’s NWHL rookie class is unlike any other class seen before in the history of the league — and is possibly unlike any future class we will see in the future.
While being only the second true “rookie class,” this year’s group is buoyed by three years worth of talent being compressed into one season thanks to the knock-on effect of the Olympic games with players like Team USA’s Kendall Coyne-Schofield and Hannah Brandt being eligible for the title. Traditional Rookie of the Year qualification criteria will still apply meaning that a player must be 26 or under as well as competing in their first professional hockey season*. (*For the purpose of this article, we be defining ‘professional season’ as North American leagues due to the nature of European leagues allowing players to join as young as 14.)
Thus, I present to you the 2019 NWHL rookie class comprised of 31 skaters and seven goaltenders. Notable exclusions include Shannon Szabados (aged out) and Katerina Mrázová (21 games with the Boston Blades). However, several USWNT Players such as Coyne-Schofield, Brandt, Dani Cameranesi, and Nicole Hensley remain eligible for the title.
Minnesota currently leads the list with 13 eligible players, including Jonna Curtis, Kate Schipper, Katie McGovern, Brandt, and Coyne-Schofield. Connecticut comes in second with eight players on the list. Boston has six with the clear standouts being McKenna Brand and Katie Burt. Four players from Buffalo make the list including USWNT players Cameranesi and Hensley. The three Riveters rookies round out the list with Audra Richards being Metropolitan’s stand out rookie performer.
Using the data from Even-Strength.com, we will be looking at how players have performed in six major categories. For skaters, this will be Goals, Primary Points, Points, Shots, Average Game Score, and xG. For Goaltenders: Games Played, Save Percentage, Goals Against Average, Average Game Score and Shots faced will be taken into consideration with full charts being available at the end of the article. Using players’ rank and success ratio in each of these categories, a list has been created of the top players.
McKenna Brand - F - Boston
With nine points under her belt for the Pride this season, McKenna Brand has been her team’s second best forward, behind only Haley Skarupa. Brand has been a huge asset in what has been a return to greatness for the Boston team. With four goals, six primary points, and 25 shots, she has already established herself as a dominant force in the league.
Even in comparison to the tight core of players in Boston including Skarupa, Krizova, Gagliardi, and Dana Trivigno, Brand stands out. Just halfway into her rookie season, she already looks like one of the Pride’s best players.
Hannah Brandt - F - Minnesota
While Brandt’s start to the season hasn’t had the offensive flair that some other members of her rookie class have had, she has shown herself to be the most dominant all-round player. She has an average game score of 0.93 so far this season, the highest of all the eligible players. However, with her knack for making seemingly impossible goals happen, Brandt has recorded six points so far this season, all of them being primary points contributing a high amount towards the success of her linemates.
Katie Burt - G - Boston
No player in the NWHL has more ice time than Katie Burt with 480 minutes already under her belt in just eight games. Of those games, she’s won six, while allowing only 17 goals for the third-lowest GA in the league. She has a save percentage of 91.3% with almost 200 shots faced.
It’s not hard to see why Burt is definitely a front-runner in the race for rookie of the year.
Dani Cameranesi - F - Buffalo
Cameranesi has had a weird start to the season, sitting in the middle of the pack in regards to what the data suggests the top rookies in the league are. She has failed to really take off and meet the expectations that many had for her first pro season.
While Cameranesi has still been one of Buffalo’s top players, her primary point production has been lackluster. For someone who has scored twice in four games for Team USA during international breaks this year, it’s safe to say that we should expect better production from her coming into the second half of the season.
Kendall Coyne-Schofield - F - Minnesota
No one this season has shot more Coyne-Schofield, and with 43 SOG under her belt and only one goal to show for it, it’s safe to say that more goals will come. Despite her scoring struggles, Coyne-Schofield has still managed a respectable six points — five of which are primary — which ties her for sixth in rookie scoring.
In a similar story to her teammate Hannah Brandt, Coyne-Schofield’s Game Score also indicates her well-rounded game, with an average rating of 0.82.
Nicole Hensley - G - Buffalo
Signed as the second part of Buffalo’s intimidating goaltending duo, Hensley has the second-lowest GAA in the league. Hensley has only been in net for 120 minutes so far this season, splitting those starts with one win and one loss. However, even at this early stage, her 88.9 save percentage is definitely something to take notice of.
Jonna Curtis - F - Minnesota
Curtis is leading all rookies in both points and primary points. She’s also currently second overall in league points, making her not just a strong contender for Rookie of the Year, but also for the NWHL’s top scorer and MVP honors. With 21 shots on goal and the second-highest average Game Score of any rookie, Curtis has truly set herself apart from the rest of the pack.
Katie McGovern - F - Minnesota
Tied for the second most primary points by a rookie with fellow Whitecap Kate Schipper, McGovern has picked up four goals thus far for Minnesota. In addition to that, McGovern has the third-highest betweenness rating on the team for all situations. While being on a line with Curtis has made her slightly less noticeable, their growing chemistry can only mean good things as the season progresses.
Kate Schipper - F - Minnesota
Third in points, second in primary points, and with 20 shots on goal this season, Kate Schipper has had a high-firing start to her NWHL career. While you could be forgiven for mixing her up with McGovern — the pair share the same number of goals, assists and secondary assists — Schipper shoots the puck almost twice as often leading to her slightly higher numbers in the xG category.
Lee Stecklein - D - Minnesota
As one of only two defenders to make this list, Stecklein has had a great start to the season on an impressive Whitecaps team. With seven points to her name — the fifth-highest in this year’s rookie class — Stecklein has been fantastic on transitional plays up the ice, picking up two primary points and five secondary assists so far this season.
Her Game Score is the second-highest among rookie defenders — with an average of 0.36. Stecklein could definitely stand to shoot more (only seven shots on goal making her the fifth-lowest among rookie defenders), but she has looked fantastic in all situations.
Mallory Souliotis - D - Boston
Souliotis was a late addition to this evaluation of the NWHL rookie class. But with the highest GS of all rookie defenders, 11 shots on goal, three goals, and four primary points, she was just begging to be included.
Being a defender hasn’t hampered Souliotis’ offence in the slightest. She’s a strong contributor to her teams’ position in the standings, helping them to reach their place as the current top team in the NWHL.
Audra Richards - F - Metropolitan
Richards has a knack for scoring goals, that much is obvious to anyone who watched her score her first hat-trick against Connecticut. With six goals to her name, Richards is at the head of this year’s rookie class in that category. Her expected goals (xG) might not be at that point just yet, but she is second in that category and is quickly establishing herself as one of the league’s elite shooters.
Being moved onto a line with reigning MVP Alexa Gruschow certainly has buoyed Richards’ numbers. After scoring twice unassisted early in the season as well as earning herself time on the PP, she is quickly establishing herself as a force to the reckoned with.
So who is going to win?
With half a season still left to go it’s hard to make predictions this early; however, Jonna Curtis already looks like a lock for a nomination while other players like McKenna Brand, Kate Schipper, and Katie McGovern have also impressed. I’m more inclined to say their nominations depend on whether or not any of the USWNT players like Coyne-Schofield, Brandt, or Cameranesi really break out in the New Year.
Katie Burt is another rookie who could be worthy of the title or even Mallory Souliotis; however, for both of them it’s going to be an uphill battle. Much of their individual success will be tied to what Boston does in the second half of the season.
Regardless of the way the rest of the season pans out, there is no denying that this rookie class is stacked.
Have a look at the data below and tell us who your top three picks for Rookie of the Year are?