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The Unofficial NWHL All-Rookie Team

Six standouts in their first year of NWHL play

Marie-Jo Pelletier
Pat McCarthy/The Ice Garden

The 2019-20 NWHL regular season saw the largest class of newcomers to the league since the 2017-18 season. The league’s five general managers all filled holes in their rosters with new talent from the NCAA, NCAA D-III, USports, and Europe.

For the purpose of a creating a level playing field, we’re going to define “rookie” as a player who is no more than one year removed from their senior season of collegiate hockey and/or who started the season at 23 or younger.

Here is the unofficial NWHL Rookie First-Team. Let the debate begin.

Forwards

Emma Vlasic

Vlasic (0.97) was the only Whale skater to finish inside of the top-30 NWHL skaters in average game score this year (GS/GP). In fact, if we are only counting Whale skaters who appeared in at least 20 games, Vlasic’s closest competition on her own team was Kaycie Anderson (0.61), who finished tied for 40th in the league in GS/GP.

Oh, and she scored seven of the Whale’s 30 even strength goals this year. That’s a similar ratio to Allie Thunstrom’s share of the Minnesota Whitecaps’ even strength goals.

It’s easy to talk about Vlasic’s scoring touch and her skill on the faceoff dot, but there was so much more to her 2019-20 season than the numbers. All you had to do to understand what the Yale alumna brought to the table was to watch her play against the league’s other top centers. She looked better with each passing week and has all the tools to be the Whale’s next franchise center.

Christina Putigna

It’s a shame that Putigna didn’t get more recognition for what she accomplished in her rookie season, but that will happen when you play on a line with two players who received MVP votes. All Putigna did this year was set a single-season record for scoring by a Canadian-born player (29). She also led all newcomers in scoring, but lost out on the Newcomer of the Year Award to Kate Leary of the Riveters.

The Providence alumna picked up her fair share of secondary assists with her front row seat to the chemistry between Jillian Dempsey and McKenna Brand. However, she also excelled at creating scoring chances. The bottom line is that Putigna would have produced regardless of who her linemates were or what jersey she was wearing. When it comes to scoring line wingers, she’s the complete package.

Christina Putigna
Pat McCarthy/The Ice Garden

Kendall Cornine

Cornine’s scoring touch vanished midway through January, but when she was hot she was one of the most dangerous players in the league. It’s hard to believe that the same player who scored nine goals in her first nine games scored just one goal — an empty-netter at that — in her last nine games, but that’s what happened. The hockey gods can be real jerks.

Despite her inconsistent production, Cornine still established herself as one of the best young centers in the NWHL and was a deserving All-Star. There’s definitely room for improvement in her play away from the puck, but there’s nothing wrong with being a downhill shooter. Cornine was one of the most entertaining players in the league this season because she always had her eyes on the prize and that is exactly what her team needed from her.

In truth, this spot could just as easily have gone to Minnesota’s Nicole Schammel. She finished the season with one more point (24) than Cornine despite missing two games, but the Rivs’ rookie scored more goals (13) and played a bigger role in her team’s success. Once Thunstrom heated up for the Whitecaps, Schammel took a backseat to the co-MVP’s goal-scoring rampage.

Defenders

Marie-Jo Pelletier

“Mighty Mouse” played on Buffalo’s top d-pair and top power play unit. She led the league in power play scoring (12) and set a franchise record for points in a season by a defender (21). It’s also worth noting that she had just one less primary point than Amanda Boulier, who led all defenders in the league in scoring in 2019-20 with 27 points in 22 games.

Pelletier was everything the Beauts could hope for after the team lost Emily Matheson and Blake Bolden during the offseason. She could make big plays with and without the puck, she could log a ton of minutes, and she had a knack for coming through when all the chips were on the table. If her team had even a little more success than they did this year, she would have gotten a lot more consideration for the Defender of the Year. She was that good.

Sydney Baldwin
Michelle Jay/NWHL

Sydney Baldwin

Baldwin was out of the Minnesota Whitecaps’ lineup for seven regular season games, but that didn’t stop her from drawing a lot of attention with her play. She also did not participate in the 2020 NWHL All-Star Weekend, but was given the nod as an All-Star for good reason.

The Golden Gopher piled up 18 points in 17 games from Minnesota’s blue line. Her average game score of 1.20 was actually a cut above Boulier’s due to the fact that eight of her 18 points were goals and only four of her 10 assists were secondary. She also averaged 3.24 SOG/GP, which put her in the same neighborhood as teammates Audra Richards and Haylea Schmid (3.25 SOG/GP) — and they’re both top-six forwards.

If she played in all 24 games this season, Baldwin could have easily become the first defender to score 10 goals in a season. With that being said, she still set a single season record with the eight she scored for Minnesota this year.

Goalie

Lovisa Selander

As great as Brooke Wolejko was in the second half of the season, Lovisa Selander was simply exceptional all season long. The 2020 NWHL Goaltender of the Year set a bevy of records and is already the all-time leader in wins among European-born goalies.

Selander finished the season with a .941 save percentage, a 1.71 GAA, and a 1.00 GSAA/60. Much has been said about her workload, but the Swedish sensation still averaged around 27 saves a game. All things considered, she likely had the second-best season by an NWHL goalie ever with her 17-win rookie campaign.


All-Rookie Second Team

Nicole Schammel - Lexie Laing - Tori Sullivan

Leila Kilduff - Lenka Curmova

Brooke Wolejko

All data courtesy of NWHL.zone, EliteProspects.com, and the author’s own tracking.