Last week, the NWHL held the 2020 Draft. Over five rounds, 30 players were drafted to six teams. We’ve taken a look at how each team drafted, so now four of our writers gave their final thoughts.
Most surprising draftee?
- Mike Murphy: Presley Norby (MIN, 17th overall). Don’t get me wrong — Norby is definitely talented enough to play in the NWHL, but shortly after the conclusion of the 2020 NWHL Draft she revealed on social media that she would not be signing with the Whitecaps. One has to imagine that Minnesota could have used that pick on another player they were in contact with before the draft. Perhaps Presley’s plans changed recently or perhaps not enough homework was done.
- Eleni Demestihas: Being drafted period? Delaney Belinskas, due to the Boston College to USWNT pipeline. Drafted where she was? Bridgette Prentiss because I thought for sure she’d go home to Buffalo.
- Leighann Strollo: What Eleni said.
- Casey Bryant: I’m not sure if there’s one draftee in particular, but it is interesting that Connecticut took three Canadians in the draft, two of them from Manitoba, and none of them went to school particularly close to Danbury. I’m guessing since head coach Colton Orr is from Winnipeg and has ties to the hockey community there, he may feel confident in his ability to sign them. If he is, that speaks volumes about the Whale’s improved ability to recruit. Stability goes a long way.
Draftee most likely to make a big impact (assuming they sign)?
- Mike Murphy: Carly Jackson (3rd overall, BUF). The Beauts’ defensive woes in the 2019-20 are not the sole responsibility of the team’s four goaltenders, but it was clear that they needed a goalie who could steal them a game. Jackson’s numbers at Maine were exceptionally good for a team that had a sub-.500 record with her between the pipes. She finished her career with the Black Bears with a .923 save percentage while facing an average workload of 27.9 SA60 (shots against per-60 minutes).
- Eleni: Friesen and Conway, the next big dynamic duo for Connecticut.
- Casey: Is it cheating to say the first overall pick? Sammy Davis is a stud, and she’s going to the most stacked offensive team in the league in the Boston Pride. She could put up enormous numbers, regardless of which line she’s thrown on. The rich get richer in Beantown.
- Leighann: Tinker and Cross for the Riveters and Beauts. Both teams needed to desperately beef up their defense and those names will do that. I would say Davis but it’s hard to impact a team that’s already as close to perfect as you can get in sports.
Most underrated draftee?
- Mike Murphy: Autumn MacDougall (BUF, 13th overall). We don’t have a great sample size when it comes to production in USports translating to the NWHL, but something tells me that MacDougall will do just fine. She finished second in scoring in USports in her senior year in 2019-20 and has piled up at least 30 points in each of her last three seasons with the Alberta Pandas. If the 5-foot-1 forward signs with the Beauts, Buffalo might just have another Mighty Mouse.
- Eleni: Probably Friesen. She spent 3 years at St. Cloud state before she finished her NCAA career at Clarkson and I think she’s been glossed over a bit. She immediately made an impact on a team that was already really good. She’s an over a point per game player even with almost 10 games lost due to injury, 21 blocked shots, and second on the team in faceoff wins on top of all that.
- Casey: I’ve got my eye on Bridgette Prentiss. She led the Franklin Pierce Ravens in scoring as a defender (45 points in 31 games) and buried 13 powerplay goals in her senior season. She fell to 21st overall to the Riveters, who could use an offensive dynamo on the back end.
- Leighann: I’m going to say Conway because she was drafted later than I would have expected, but I don’t think she’s underrated from a fan perspective. Same goes for Capistran.
Which team drafted the best?
- Mike Murphy: In my opinion, the team that drafted the best will be the team that signs the most picks. With that cop-out out of the way, I really like what Connecticut Whale general manager Bray Ketchum did in the draft. The Whale addressed two big team needs in the first two rounds with a playmaker in Kayla Friesen (2nd overall) and a first-pair defender who can move the puck in Victoria Howran (7th overall). I also really liked the Amanda Conway (19th) pick in Round 4. Connecticut addressed its pressing need for offense and skill by taking five forwards and one defender with six picks. If you’re a follower of the pod, there’s a lot to like about this year’s draft class.
- Eleni: Connecticut. They drafted a faceoff queen, a scoring winger, a defender strong on both sides of the puck. They need some forward depth and got it.
- Casey: Considering Connecticut had the most glaring needs after last season, I’m inclined to say them for the way Bray Ketchum Peel and Colton Orr addressed their issues. But don’t sleep on Buffalo, either. It may have been a reach to grab a goaltender 3rd overall, but I think they underestimated how steep the dropoff in goal would be following the departure of Shannon Szabados and Nicole Hensley. So they grabbed Carly Jackson and a trio of new defenders to bolster what was the worst defensive core in the league last year.
- Leighann: I’m biased but I’ll say Riveters. I think they hit everything they needed and exceeded expectations in every position. Also bonus points for doing so with only four picks.
Overall thoughts on the draft?
- Mike Murphy: The 2020 Draft was entertaining and well-executed by the league. The new approach (drafting players after they have graduated) looks like it was a step in the right direction. Early indications suggest that this draft might be the most “meaningful” to date. In years past, the draft has felt like a ceremony without much substance. However, we won’t have a real measure of it until we can count the signings.
- Eleni: I thought the new structure was really great. The draft itself was clean and professional, bringing outside voices in to announce picks helped build hype and spread the word. Drafting seniors after the NCAA season is over will hopefully ensure most or many of them will actually sign.
- Casey: What Mike said. In years past the draft has really been more symbolic, merely there because every other league has a draft. Perhaps saying this go-around feels more legitimate is putting it too harshly, but the number of players who actually sign with their drafted teams will likely skyrocket this year and that is significant. The presentation itself was remarkable, and the league and its social team deserves a ton of credit.
- Leighann: The best one yet. Having it be in the evening was good, moving it to two nights built a little more suspense and allowed for reflection after night one. I would have loved for it to be streamed on twitch with an actual host but the videos and guests they had were amazing and drew a lot of attention. Graphics were stunning. All around a great job.