The 20s start with two players who have never been our list before!
No. 19 | McKenna Brand
McKenna Brand was a dynamo for the top-seeded Boston Pride. She recorded 19 goals and 17 assists in 24 games with six game-winners, a +31 rating and a whopping 5.75 SOG/game average. She also had a primary assist in the Isobel Cup Semi-Final against Connecticut.
Brand had a breakout 2019-20 for the Boston Pride. She had already had an impressive rookie season, recording 17 points in 16 games, but she truly built off that foundation to flourish in Paul Mara’s system.
Granted, having the best scorer in NWHL history in Jillian Dempsey by your side will help you along. But that shouldn’t take away from Brand’s terrific campaign. In fact, Brand outscored Dempsey 19-to-17 in the goal department- though Dempsey had the last laugh by leading the league in points while Brand only finished tied for second. Ho hum.
She was October’s player of the month last season after a torrid seven-game stretch: seven goals, a hat trick, three game-winners, six assists and a whopping 55 shots on goal.
Brand has been calling Massachusetts home for years, having graduated from Northeastern University as an alternate captain in 2018. She led the Huskies in points her senior season and drove the offense as their best shot generator. Twice in her collegiate career she notched 10 shots on goal, which has only been surpassed by Alina Mueller since (11 SOG vs Holy Cross on Nov. 29, 2019).
Boston is going to be great again next year. There’s no two ways about it. And a big reason for that is the incredible scoring depth they have up front, Brand included. They’re a possession juggernaut with several players with tremendous touch and patience. Add in the third member of the Pride’s typical top line in Christina Putigna and 2020 1st overall pick Sammy Davis and you have the makings of a powerhouse.
Brand will be put in the right positions to score. Even if she were to be separated from Dempsey, she is able to drive play forward with smooth skating and stickhandling. She’s no coattail rider, she is a legitimate force. Always has been, always will be.
As a 24-year-old, Brand is just beginning to hit her stride. When the NWHL returns, whenever that may be, pay close attention to #17 in yellow. There’s a good chance she’ll be challenging once again for the top spot in the league scoring race, and an even better one her only competition will be wearing a friendly sweater.
Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?
Brand flew under the radar heading into her sophomore season in the NWHL. And as long as Dempsey is on the team, she’s probably going to be playing second fiddle to the established superstar. And that’s okay. If anything, she seems to thrive in that kind of role, using it as motivation.
But don’t let that detract from her skill set. She’s patient with a terrific hockey IQ that perfectly complements her finishing ability in close. And there’s something to be said for a shoot-first player that can rack up assists the way she can.
She’s about where she should be on the Top 25 Under 25 list. But in the grand scheme of things, she still seems underrated somehow.
I think Paul Mara said it best: “This player is really damn good.”
No. 20 | Jaime Bourbonnais
After turning heads with her play in the PWHL with the Oakville Hornets and at the 2015 Canada Winter Games, where she earned honors as Top Defenseman, Jaime Bourbonnais won her first medal as a member of Team Canada. Playing for Canada at 2016 IIHF U18 Worlds, Bourbonnais had a silver medal placed around her neck as an alternate captain after scoring two goals in five games.
Prior to her senior season in 2019-20, Jaime Bourbonnais had already impressed and earned her way onto Canada’s national team with her play at Cornell University. The versatile defender took her game to a new level as a senior, eventually earning well-deserved nods as a Patty Kazmaier Top-10 Finalist, ECAC Hockey’s Best Defenseman, and First-Team All-Ivy.
After an impressive individual performance at the 2019 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Espoo – in which she scored a goal and picked up two assists in seven games for Canada – Bourbonnais led the Big Red in scoring with seven goals and 34 assists in 33 games in 2019-20. She led all defenders in the nation in assists, primary assists (23), and was second in the nation among defenders in even strength scoring (29). Really, it’s almost impossible to overstate how integral she was to Cornell’s success (28-2-3) in her senior season.
She was named to the 2020 Worlds That Didn’t Happen roster, what would have been her second straight Worlds appearance. She was also named to the December Rivalry Series, only missing out on February because both countries left off their college players.
Given the legacy she left with the Big Red as one of the best defenders behind fellow countrywomen Laura Fortino and Lauriane Rougeau, I think we’ll see her continue to follow a similar path and have a long career with Team Canada too.
Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?
It’s probably too low, but also just right? I know that can’t technically be possible but I swear it can be. Bourbonnais feels like a player who’s going to really break out after college, another Victoria Bach if you will. For her first time on our list 20 feels right, but also she can be so much higher. Look for her to rise up in the future.