The NWHL announced this afternoon details regarding the league’s 2021 draft — including the draft order, player eligibility, and information regarding free agency.
Unlike the 2020 draft, which was conducted entirely on social media, this year’s selection show will be conducted on the league’s Twitch channel (twitch.tv/NWHL), and will air live on Tuesday, June 29, at 7 p.m. eastern.
“The NWHL Draft is a special time for aspiring professional women’s hockey players to be recognized for their achievements and to take an important step forward in their careers,” said Lisa Haley, the NWHL’s Senior Vice-President of Hockey Operations, in the release. “It’s also an exciting opportunity for our teams to build towards upcoming seasons and for fans to get to know the future stars of the league.”
Any player who has used up their NCAA, U SPORTS, or the equivalent eligibility or has received their degree or certification as acknowledged by their post-secondary institution is eligible for the draft. That last bit is important, considering that the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to all NCAA athletes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, giving every senior the opportunity to return for another year of eligibility in 2021-22.
Furthermore, players who have declared for the draft may not sign as free agents ahead of the selection show on June 29; however, if they declared for the draft but are not selected, they enter the free agent portal as of 9 AM ET on June 30. Teams hold the exclusive signing rights to their draft picks for two weeks following the draft, after which point the draftees become free agents and are eligible to sign with the team of their choosing starting at 9 AM ET on July 14.
With rumblings of an imminent expansion to Montréal laid to rest by Marisa Ingemi, the format for the draft will remain the same as last year, with five rounds comprised of six picks each for a total of 30 draft picks. The difference this year is that the order of selection has been determined using win percentage between Lake Placid and the postseason in Boston.
Round 1: Buffalo, Connecticut, Toronto (from BOS) *, Toronto, Toronto (from MET) **, Minnesota
Round 2: Buffalo, Connecticut, Toronto (from BOS) *, Toronto, Metropolitan, Minnesota
Round 3: Buffalo, Connecticut, Boston, Toronto, Metropolitan, Minnesota
Round 4: Buffalo, Connecticut, Boston, Toronto, Metropolitan, Minnesota
Round 5: Buffalo, Connecticut, Boston, Toronto, Metropolitan, Minnesota
* Toronto’s first pick in the first round (third overall) and first pick in the second round (ninth overall) is a result of the trade made with Boston ahead of the 2020 NWHL Draft.
** Toronto’s third pick in the first round (fifth overall) is a result of the trade made with the Riveters ahead of season six that saw Kelly Babstock join Metropolitan.
The draft order is subject to change pending any trades between teams.
Toronto leads the way with a whopping eight (8!) picks between five rounds, resulting from three additional picks acquired prior to the start of the 2020-21 season. Boston has the fewest picks in the draft with only three, though how much additional star power they’ll need to bring in after their impressive 2020 Isobel Cup run remains to be seen.
Buffalo, with the first overall pick in the draft and first pick of each round, and Connecticut, with the second pick of each round, both have some of the best odds to secure the best eligible players — though the NCAA’s bequest of an extra year of eligibility due to COVID is sure to complicate things.
The NWHL defines free agents as players “who have already graduated or have used up their collegiate eligibility at least one year before the draft ... [and] international players who are at least 21 years of age on or before September 1, 2021, and have not consumed any eligibility at the NCAA and U SPORTS level,” per the release.
Furthermore, each NWHL team retains the “exclusive right” to re-sign any of their players from the 2020-21 season up until May 15 at 5 PM ET, at which point those players become unrestricted free agents and are eligible to sign with any team of their choosing.
This means that, for example, the Pride are able to re-sign captain Jillian Dempsey to a contract for 2021-22, but no other team can make an offer to Dempsey unless she remains unsigned by the Pride until May 15 (which is highly unlikely, but for the sake of the scenario...let’s pretend it’s not). After May 15 at 5 PM, any other team can sign Dempsey.
Basically, no players rostered in 2020-21 will be able to sign with a new team before May 15 at 5 PM. After that, everyone and every team is fair game.
Important Dates to Remember
May 15: All NWHL players rostered for season six become unrestricted free agents, eligible to sign with any team of their choosing.
June 29 (DRAFT DAY!): Players who declared for the 2021 NWHL Draft are eligible to be selected during the draft, aired live on Twitch at 7 PM
June 30: Players who declared for the 2021 NWHL Draft but did not get selected are eligible to sign as unrestricted free agents
July 14: Players who declared for the 2021 NWHL Draft and did get selected became unrestricted free agents, unbound to the team that drafted them and eligible to sign with any team of their choosing