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2019 Women’s Hockey Top 25 Under 25 | No. 21-24: Sophie Shirley; Denisa Křížová; Kelly Pannek; Noora Tulus and Kassidy Sauvé (tie)

Two new names debut on our list at the tie for 24th

Our list officially kicks off with a tie for the 24th spot. The five players that make up these spots have all represented their country in international play. In 2018-19 they played in three different leagues. Two are newcomers to our list.

No. 21 | Sophie Shirley

Gabriella Fundaro

Wisconsin Athletics

The Saskatoon product is ranked in the T25U25 for the second year in a row after a dominant freshman season at Wisconsin.

Past Accomplishments

Shirley came to Wisconsin as a widely heralded player after skating in the CWHL for one year. With the Calgary Inferno, she took home the CWHL’s Rookie of the Year award; this year with the Badgers, she repeated the honor, winning the WCHA’s Rookie of the Year award. In her first NCAA season, she totaled 20 goals, 18 assists, and 38 points. She led all rookies nationwide in plus/minus with a +36 rating and ranked seventh in shots on goal (118) and fourth in scoring.

Future Impact

Unsurprisingly, Shirley made a smooth transition from the CWHL to NCAA play, slotting in right away as a top-six forward for the Badgers and providing the team with her fair share of primary scoring this season. She has three years left in her college career and it’s a near certainty that she’ll be even better down the road. She comes into 2019-20 as one of Wisconsin’s most experienced forwards as just a sophomore, and should be a huge difference maker for the team in all situations.

What really stands out about Shirley’s game is her elite speed. Her ability to create grade-A chances off the rush is a direct result of that plus a high skill level, which will help her make an impact throughout the rest of her career. She’s excellent at getting plays going from the neutral zone and has very good awareness and instincts in the offensive zone. As her all-around game continues to develop around that at Wisconsin, she projects as a future top-line forward at the pro level who should see plenty of time with Team Canada.

Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?

Shirley debuted in TIG’s T25U25 last year tied for the 13th spot, and I have to think her slide this year is due largely to the change in competition, as well as some other players on this list rising. I would argue that she is an even more polished player now, and #21 is too low for someone of her caliber. Somewhere in the low teens range feels about right for her.

No. 22 | Denisa Křížová

Eleni Demestihas

Michelle Jay

Křížová featured in our 2017 Top 25 Under 25 list at #25, but did not feature in last year’s list. This year she’s back, and bumped up three spots from her last appearance after a killer rookie professional season and a solid outing at the 2019 World Championships with the Czech Republic.

Past Accomplishments

Křížová had a remarkable college career, which is in part why she made the 2017 list. In 143 games with Northeastern, she recorded 169 points, over 100 of which were assists. She was well over a point-per-game player (1.18 points per game), and she went on to produce in professional hockey once she graduated. In her rookie season with the Boston Pride in the NWHL she recorded six goals and eight assists in 16 games. Her fourteen points tied her for 4th on the team with captain Jillian Dempsey, and the second half of her season was particularly impressive, as she went on a scoring run to help cement the Pride’s spot in the playoffs. To add to that, she wore an A for the Czech Republic at the 2019 World Championships and recorded 3 points in 5 games, providing both offense and leadership.

Future Impact

Křížová will join SDHL side Brynäs IF for the 2019-2020 season. Brynäs finished seventh in the SDHL standings in 2019, and their season ended with a quarterfinal loss. She’s likely to play a big role in the team’s push for a deep playoff run, given her skill on the puck and proven ability to put the puck in the net. She’s one of several higher-profile additions to the team over the summer, but I would still expect to see her play top-six minutes, maybe on a line with fellow countryman Kateřina Mrázová, since the two showcased some significant chemistry during the 2019 World Championships.

Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?

It might be a bit low. Players outside Finland, Sweden, the United States and Canada are historically undervalued, and it’s difficult to understand just how big a piece she is on a Czech Republic team that has to grapple with the Goliaths of the sport. The short NWHL season didn’t do her any favors, either, as it ended right about when she started to really get into her groove on the professional level.

No. 23 | Kelly Pannek

Leighann Strollo

Brad Rempel

The 23-year-old Minnesota native fell down one spot from 24 last year. It is just about where I would expect her to hover with only her final season at the University of Minnesota being the difference from then to now.

Past Accomplishments

Pannek was a massive help in two NCAA championships coming in 2015 and 2016, while also being a member of the US Women’s national team since 2017, earning a three gold medals including an Olympic gold last year in PyeongChang. During her time as a Gopher, Pannek led all NCAA freshman with 44 points in 41 games, and led the nation with 62 points in 39 games during her 2016-17 junior year while posting a stellar +45 plus/minus rating, and being a Patty Kaz award finalist. Since graduating, Pannek was drafted 4th overall in the 2019 NWHL draft by the Minnesota Whitecaps.

Future Impact

The reigning NWHL champions are already setting themselves up for success with the names they’ve signed so far, and Pannek would just be another star-studded addition to the lineup though she hasn’t yet signed with the team. Pannek is a great asset to any team by being a playmaker, and you can usually find her name high up on any team’s assists list. She also has a knack for winning faceoffs, making her very valuable on the ice. Additionally, Pannek has carved herself a nice spot on the US National team roster and will continue to dominate there as she did while assisting them to their first Olympic gold medal in 20 years.

Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?

Like I said earlier, considering her performance during her final year as a Gopher where nothing seemed to jump out, I expected her to remain in this part of the list. However, my initial thought on both rankings is too low. Pannek had some massive numbers with the Gophers and has made herself an important piece of the US national team. Considering she hasn’t yet played pro, her lower ranking is understandable however if she can shine on a skilled Whitecaps squad like she did in college, I would expect to see a jump into the teens next year.

No. 24 (tie) | Noora Tulus

Meredith Foster

Mats Bekkevold

Tulus, 23, debuts on the Top 25 Under 25 list after a 2018-19 season packed with breakout performances. She’s a versatile forward who can play at both center and wing with ease.

Past Accomplishments

At the club level, Tulus has played with the SDHL’s Luleå Hockey/MSSK since the 2016 playoffs. She’s been part of all three of team’s SDHL championships, including the back-to-back victories in 2018 and 2019.

Although she can certainly score goals, Tulus shines as a playmaker. Her assist numbers last season with Luleå were phenomenal: 41 in 36 regular-season games, almost tripling her total from the year before. She finished second in the SDHL behind only the maybe-ethereal Jenni Hiirikoski.

A native of Vantaa, Tulus has represented Finland on the international stage since her U18 days. Her international CV boasts an Olympic bronze medals, two World Championship bronzes, a U18 bronze, and one World Championship silver medal.

She shines on special teams at all levels. Tulus’s playmaking helped Finland all tournament long at last spring’s World Championship in Espoo; five of her six assists came on the power play, a team best. In the SDHL she finished second in the league in power play scoring and second in power play assists, behind...wait for it..Jenni Hiirikoski.

Future Impact

Tulus has a great chance to be the Naisleijonat’s new first line center come next season following Riikka Sallinen’s retirement. There’s no reason to think she won’t stay at center in the upcoming SDHL season with Luleå; she’s certainly proven what she can do at the position. Look for her to have increased responsibility, and to thrive under the challenge.

Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?

There’s an argument to be made that any player who’s spent their whole career outside of North America is ranked too low, based on voters’ lack of exposure. Hockey fans looking for a flashy shoot-first forward might overlook Tulus and her more subtle approach to offense. That’s their loss. She’s a world-class forward who belongs higher on this list.

No. 24 (tie) | Kassidy Sauvé

Gabriella Fundaro

Schuyler Meyer

Sauvé is making her first appearance in TIG’s T25U25 after a stellar collegiate career, split between three years with Ohio State and one final year with Clarkson.

Past Accomplishments

A former Second Team All-American, Sauvé took her teams to back-to-back Frozen Fours to close out her college career. Since starting out with the Buckeyes, she’s proven she can handle seeing lots of pucks and turning most of them away. She owns a number of career and single-season records at Ohio State, dominating in every goaltending category from save percentage to shutouts. Nobody in Buckeyes history has more than Sauvé’s 42 career wins, 22 career shutouts, or 2,549 career saves–all in just three years.

At Clarkson, Sauvé posted the eighth-best save percentage in the country with a mark of .937 and stopped 917 shots in all, a program single-season record. She upped her game in the postseason, turning in a .974 save percentage in six games. She took home ECAC Third Team and All-Tournament Team honors, and helped the Golden Knights to the conference championship.

Future Impact

Sauvé is a well-established starting goaltender in NCAA play and definitely has the potential to take up the reins for a pro team now that she’s moving on to the next level. She took on a heavy workload throughout her four-year career and never seemed phased by it. She also has shown a propensity to raise her game against top opponents and in big matchups; she posted a 38-save NCAA quarterfinal shutout against Boston College to get to the Frozen Four in 2018, and then made 35 saves in a 2-1 overtime victory against BC to get back there this past spring.

Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?

Sauvé has turned in an outstanding NCAA career for two different teams and has a really good chance to make her mark at the pro level and see some action with Hockey Canada. This ranking feels about right for her as she graduates from college.