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2021 NWHL Season Preview: Rookies to Watch

There’s a lot of new blood and new talent in the league this year

Pride forward Tereza Vanisova and Pride defender Paige Capistran battle at practice.
Michelle Jay

As is the case every year, all six NWHL teams have rookies on their roster. We recently learned that NWHL teams will be dressing 18 skaters (and two goaltenders) in Lake Placid. That means that even in a condensed schedule like the one we’ll see in Lake Placid, rookies will have an opportunity to make an impact.

To get you primed for the 2021 season, we’re going to highlight a few rookies from each team who are worth keeping a close eye on when the puck drops on Jan. 25 in Lake Placid, New York.

Note: we’re qualifying “rookies” as first-year NWHL players who have played no more than one pro season after completing their college career. That excludes known commodities of post-collegiate hockey like Brooke Boquist and Emma Woods of the Toronto Six and Theresa Knutson of the Metropolitan Riveters.


Boston Pride

  • Sammy Davis | Davis was the first overall pick of the 2020 Draft and is sure to feature in Boston’s top six, likely on the second line. Even on a team with an overabundance of threats Davis has the ability to stand out from the pack. She had 93 points in 73 games in her last two seasons at Boston University and 15 of her 24 assists as a senior were primary. Even more impressively, Davis led the Terriers in scoring by 11 points in 2019-20. This is a gamebreaking player. This is the Pride’s next All-Star forward.
  • Tereza Vanišová | In a way, it doesn’t feel fair to call a rookie. After all, she’s played in four top division IIHF World Championships, played in the Czech league before playing NCAA DI hockey, and will be turning 25 during the season. In Vanišová the Pride are adding an elite winger with great speed who has proven her ability to create offense on her own. Needless to say, she won’t have to do that on Boston. That should result in her having a high-scoring rookie season. She’s already a star. Now she’ll be an NWHL star.
Ice Hockey: Czech Republic v Switzerland Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Don’t Sleep On

  • The Wildcats | The Pride signed Meghara McManus, Carlee Turner, and Taylor Wenczkowski out of UNH. I mean, you just have to play them together right? Head coach Paul Mara definitely knows that McManus and Wenczkowski scored a combined 24 goals in 2019-20 and 32 goals in 2018-19. Together, they could be the key to the Pride having a third line that can score like a second line. Again. Or a fourth line that can do the same because, hey, why not?

Buffalo Beauts

  • Whitney Dove | Dove joins the Beauts from a Providence Friars club that leaned on its defenders to produce offense — and she delivered in a big way. Dove scored at least five goals in each of her four seasons at Providence and is coming off of a strong 28-point senior campaign. According to Hockey East’s stats database, 12 of her 19 assists were primary last season and she finished tied for second on the Friars in shots (109 in 34 GP). Will the Beauts’ offense unleash the Dove on the power play? Here’s hoping they do. And yes, I did just actually write that.
  • Dominique Kremer | Kremer, like Dove, is a right-handed defender who has a knack for creating offense. A product of Shattuck St. Mary’s and Merrimack, Kremer played in the SDHL last year with Djurgården where she led all defenders on the team in scoring with 16 points in 36 games. With MJP, Dove, and Kremer in the mix, the Beauts look like a much-improved team on the blue line, especially on the right side.
  • Alyson Matteau | Matteau just might be the shutdown defender the Beauts have been missing since big Paige Harrington left the team. Per EliteProspects.com, she’s 5-foot-10 and 181 lbs, so you might expect her to be something of a wrecking ball. But Matteau took just three minor penalties in her senior season at Maine after spending a ton of time in the box as a freshman and a sophomore. She used that big frame to block a team-leading 109 shots in 32 games in 2018-19. MJP’s new d-partner? Maybe.

Don’t Sleep On

  • Autumn MacDougall | Bold prediction: MacDougall will be one of the Beauts’ highest-scorers. MacDougall is tiny at 5-foot-1, but that didn’t stop her from scoring 17 goals — 10 on the power play — as a senior in 2019-20. She piled up at least 30 points in her last three seasons of USports hockey playing for the University of Alberta. Those are big numbers, even if USports is a step-down from NCAA DI in terms of overall skill. With the right linemates, MacDougall could be a key contributor for Buffalo.

Connecticut Whale

  • Kayla Friesen | Friesen, the 2nd overall pick of the 2020 Draft, played in the shadow of Élizabeth Giguère in her senior season at Clarkson but put up a career-best 30 points in 28 games after being lost in the mix at St. Cloud State. On the Whale, she’ll have an opportunity to step into a featured role in the offense. In an interview with Dan Rice Friesen shared that head coach Colton Orr was going to give her the freedom to use her skills. That could prove to be music to the ears of Whale fans everywhere.
  • Tori Howran | Howran is going to bring some much-needed puck skill to the Whale’s blue line. As a senior at UNH, she led the Wildcats in power play scoring (14) and assists (20) and finished second in points with 22 points in 37 games. She’s a true two-way defender, but the Whale will be counting on her ability to move the puck out of the defensive zone and onto the tape of Emma Vlasic and the team’s new skilled forwards. Expect Howran to eat up a ton of minutes in her debut NWHL season.

Don’t Sleep On

  • Amanda Conway | Just how good can Conway be at this level? It’s hard to say, but I can’t wait to find out.
    She scored at least 30 goals in her final three seasons of NCAA DIII hockey at Norwich and led the nation in scoring as both a sophomore and a senior. That’s impressive. Conway soared to the top of the leaderboard with 32 goals and 27 assists in 29 games as a senior in the 2019-20 campaign. She had 11 more goals and 18 more points than DIII’s second-highest scorer, Annie Katonka of Plattsburgh State. We’ve seen DIII players make an impact in the NWHL before. Conway has the potential to raise that bar.

Metropolitan Riveters

  • Bridgette Prentiss | Prentiss is the puck-moving power play quarterback the Riveters were missing last year. She gained a lot of attention for her breakout senior season at Franklin Pierce in 2019-20 in which she scored 45 points in 31 games, but many are quick to point out she was in NEWHA. So, you could say that Prentiss has something to prove.
    The good news for Riveters fans is that her skill is undeniable. She averaged 4.03 SOG/GP and blocked 1.7 SOG/GP last year and 30 of her 45 points were scored on the power play. What Prentiss can do at even strength will be what makes or breaks her rookie season.
Nayan Patel @scootszn
  • Saroya Tinker | Tinker is more of a stay-at-home defender than Prentiss, but her skillset will also be a welcome addition to a blue line filled with rookies. The Yale alumna had promising underlying numbers in DI and her size, strength, and instincts in the defensive zone make her a promising penalty killer at the pro level. She’s a shutdown defender that any NWHL team would be lucky to have on their blue line.
  • Tera Hofmann — Is Hofmann the goalie who posted a .925 save percentage at even strength against 545 shots as a junior at Yale or is she the goalie who earned an .885 Sv% at evens against 192 shots as a senior? Well, she’s both. But, we should put more stock in the larger sample size. The bigger question is will she start the bulk of the Riveters’ games or share the crease with Sonjia Shelly. Ivo Mocek wouldn’t reveal which of his netminders will be his starter but we’re going to see both Rivs’ goalies get a chance.

Don’t Sleep On

  • Sammy Kolowrat — Kolowrat brings a ton of experience to the Rivs’ blue line as a member of the Czech national team. She’s a two-way defender who excelled at blocking shots at the University of Vermont but don’t be surprised if she chips in some offense too. In her senior year at Vermont in 2018-19, Kolowrat finished second on the team in shots attempted on the power play (54) and led the Catamounts with six power play points. She has the goods to be a top-four defender for the Rivs.
Ice Hockey Women’s 5 Nations Tournament - Day 4 Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

Minnesota Whitecaps

  • Haley Mack | Believe it or not, the Whitecaps have just three rookies on their roster right now. Mack, a standout from Bemidji State, is the rookie who is most likely to make a big impact.
    She averaged 0.58 Pts/GP in her collegiate career under head coach Jim Scanlan who said the following of the forward: “She got sidelined with a couple of injuries that kept her totals down, but she led our team in scoring, led our team in goals and obviously played a huge role — a top-six forward — while playing on the power play and penalty kill. She set an all-time record here in shorthanded goals.” She’s healthy and hungry to keep her hockey career going. With plenty of speed and skill around her, Mack could be a breakout star for the Whitecaps.
Nayan Patel @scootszn

Don’t Sleep On

  • Maddie Rowe | It’s hard to miss Maddie Rowe. She stands at 5’11” and joins the Whitecaps after a solid career with the Wisconsin Badgers playing primarily as the team’s seventh defender but also getting plenty of shifts in at forward. Her size and versatility could earn her a spot on the third defensive pair or the fourth line. We might even see her parked in front of the net on the power play — or the penalty kill.

Toronto Six

  • Mikyla Grant-Mentis | Grant-Mentis is technically still a rookie because she only played two regular season games with the Beauts last year. Anyone who watched her last season already knows that she’s going to be sensational as a member of the Six.
    MGM’s underlying numbers at Merrimack were absolutely bonkers and she looked like an All-Star in her three games of NWHL action. With Babstock now out of the picture, she could find herself centering the top line. She truly is one of those players who can do it all.
  • Sarah-Ève Coutu-Godbout | Coutu-Godbout had a breakout senior season at Quinnipiac in 2019-20. She led the Bobcats in goals (16) and finished second on the team in scoring. Coutu-Godbout also led Quinnipiac in power-play goals (5) and shots (125) — averaging 3.47 SOG/GP. A natural winger, Coutu-Godbout won silver at the 2015 U18 World Championship with Canada. Don’t be surprised if she adjust to the NWHL game quickly and plays like a veteran right out of the gate. This is a player who should be a staple in Toronto’s top-six.
  • Lindsay Eastwood | Where to start on Eastwood? Well, she’s 6-foot-1, was named the CHA Defender of the Year in her senior season, shared the team lead on Syracuse in scoring (28 points in 36 games), holds the Orange record for goals by a defender in a career, and played for Canada at the 2015 U18 World Championship.
    If you’re a Toronto fan, there’s a lot of reasons to like the big defender from Kanata. There’s a lot more to her game than her size and wingspan, but they should definitely help her carve out a role for herself as a featured blueliner on the Six. That big shot of hers could also be a weapon on Toronto’s power play.
    Eastwood is also writing about her experience in Lake Placid for Sportsnet, so be sure to check that out.

Don’t Sleep On

  • Sam Ridgewell | The Six have two great goalies in Elaine Chuli and Sam Ridgewell, but Ridgewell could be the one who really steals the show. The 5-foot-11 netminder had an outstanding collegiate career at Merrimack where she earned a .923 Sv% across four seasons. Last year, Ridgewell was a revelation in the SDHL with Djurgården. She put up a .920 Sv% and posted a 14-6-0 record in Sweden, which, depending on who you ask, might be the most talented pro women’s league in the world.
  • Amy Curlew | Curlew was the Six’s second-ever draft pick for a reason. She’s a balanced winger who got better with each passing year at Cornell, culminating in a senior campaign in which she scored 22 points in 32 games. Curlew’s best hockey is still ahead of her. She will be relied on to provide some depth scoring for Toronto.