After setting an NWHL record with five assists against the Connecticut Whale on Jan. 6, there’s little doubt that Amanda Kessel is one of the best playmakers in the NWHL. Truth be told, that was evident long before the Riveters’ 6–3 win in Connecticut.
Now past the midway point of her second season in the league, Kessel has played in 18 regular season games of NWHL hockey. In that time she has piled up 25 assists for the Metropolitan Riveters. Thanks to her five-assist game against the Whale on Sunday, Kessel is now second all-time in assists for the Riveters franchise. She trails defender Courtney Burke, who holds the franchise record, by just three helpers. That’s impressive. What’s more impressive is the fact that Kessel has played in half as many games as Burke has in the NWHL.
To date, Kessel has played in only five regular season and playoff games where she didn’t earn an assist. Her ability to move the puck and set up teammates has made her a mainstay in the NWHL’s highlight videos on YouTube. Since the 2016–17 season, Kessel has more primary assists than any other player — and she missed more than half of the 2016–17 season because of injury and Team USA duties ... and all of the 2017–18 season because she was in residency for the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.
Those primary assist numbers are clear evidence of Kessel’s gift for creating offense and making the players around her more impactful. In her first NWHL season she picked up a staggering 14 assists in eight games. Ten of those 14 assists were primary. This season, in 10 games with the Riveters, Kessel has 11 assists — and eight of them have been primary.
This season, the rest of the Riveters roster has just 11 primary assists combined. If that doesn’t illustrate just how valuable Kessel’s playmaking ability is and has been to the Riveters, nothing else will. When the puck is on her stick, the Riveters are a more dangerous hockey team. It’s as simple as that.
Like most playmakers, Kessel’s vision and quick hands are best witnessed when her team is on the power play. When the best passers in the game have a little bit more time and space to work with, they know how to exploit mistakes in coverage and exhaust penalty killers. In 18 games of NWHL hockey, Kessel has earned six primary assists on the power play, which is second all-time in the NWHL behind Burke. She also has assists on three of the Riveters’ four power play goals this season.
The Riveters’ struggles this season have been well documented. How can a team that won the Isobel Cup last year have a record of 3–8–0 this season with Kessel in the lineup? The Riveters offense dropped from 4.0 goals per game in 2017–18 to 1.90 goals per game through 11 games this season. That’s a devastating drop in production, but as it turns out, Kessel has not been part of the problem. She has assists on 11 of the Riveters’ 21 goals this season and is tied for fourth in the league in primary points.
Fortunately for the Riveters, Kessel wasn’t the only key forward who had a big game on Sunday. Madison Packer, Miye D’Oench, and Audra Richards all had multipoint games, and Alexa Gruschow scored her second goal of the season. But until the Riveters prove themselves against one of the NWHL’s top-three teams — the Buffalo Beauts, the Boston Pride, and the Minnesota Whitecaps — it’s still premature to claim that they are back on track. With that being said, there should be some comfort for Riveters fans in knowing that their superstar forward is doing everything she can to bring out the best in the players around her.
When the puck is on the blade of Kessel’s stick, anything is possible — especially in a league that has one-game playoff series.
Data courtesy of Even-Strength.com, NWHL.zone, and from the author’s own tracking.