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2021 NWHL Draft Recap: Connecticut Whale

Pod adds Girard, Polaski to offensive arsenal

Connecticut Whale celebrate a goal in Lake Placid, NY.
Connecticut Whale celebrate a goal in Lake Placid, NY.
Michelle Jay

The Connecticut Whale had just four picks in the five-round NWHL Draft, sacrificing a third-round selection in order to obtain the first overall pick. Head coach Colton Orr and general manager Alexis Moed had plenty of freedom to work with given Connecticut’s need at virtually every position as the work to build a powerhouse continues.

Their draft haul provides a jolt to the rebuild, adding a pair of noted goal-scorers, a right-handed defender and a two-way forward.

Round 1, Pick 1: Taylor Girard, Forward, Quinnipiac University

Nayan Patel (@scootszn)

The Connecticut Whale went out of their way to trade up for Girard with one thing on their mind: creativity. While the league’s perennial doormat turned a corner in a major way in Lake Placid back in January, they still found themselves shutout in the Isobel Cup Semi-Final against the Minnesota Whitecaps.

They came into the draft with a clear desire to add potency up front. They found Girard sitting in their own state.

Girard was a point-per-game player her senior season with the QU Bobcats, ending the season on a seven-game point streak to give her 16 in 15 games. She established herself as one of the best shot generators in the ECAC, averaging 4.2 SOG/GP. Connecticut head coach Colton Orr praised her work ethic, noting that she “fits [the Whale’s] culture.”

With 69 points in 105 career NCAA D1 games between Quinnipiac and Lindenwood University, Girard adds some legit firepower to the Whale’s offense- especially if they can coax fellow former Bobcat Melissa Samoskevich back to the team.

Round 2, Pick 8: Emma Polaski, Forward, Syracuse University

Nayan Patel (@scootszn)

Emma Polaski is another forward with a scorer’s touch. She led the Syracuse Orange in powerplay goals her senior season (3) while serving as the team’s alternate captain. Her best season came as a sophomore in 2018-19, notching 21 points in 37 games while leading the team with 11 goals en route to a conference championship.

Even as an underclassman, Polaski was a head-turner. Syracuse head coach Paul Flanagan once praised her offensive instincts, growing into a more confident player with a net-front presence.

“She just always wants the puck,” Flanagan told the Daily Orange in 2018. “When she’s out there, whether it’s in practice or in games, she’s always calling for it. She wants the puck, she wants to score goals, and that’s what I want to see.”

Polaski attended Connecticut Free Agent Camp and caught the coaching staff’s eye. She will be reunited with former Orange defender Allie Munroe, who signed with the team on June 3.

Round 4, Pick 20: Hannah Bates, Defender, St. Cloud State

Nayan Patel (@scootszn)

The Whale still have some big shoes to fill on the blueline, but they picked up a nice right-handed shot in the form of Hannah Bates. Bates contributed five points in 19 games in her senior season at St. Cloud State, bringing her career total to 17 points in 120 contests.

Her true value lies in her defensive prowess. She’s a smooth, slippery skater at 5’4” with a penchant for getting her body in shooting lanes. She logged 35 blocked shots in 34 games as a junior with the Huskies, making her a prime candidate to replace Shannon Doyle in the wearing-pucks-department.

Round 5, Pick 26: Grace Middleton, Forward, University of New Hampshire

Grace Middleton was a three-time Hockey East All-Academic Team honoree, tallying 22 points in 127 career games with the UNH Wildcats. While Middleton’s senior season did not provide too many offensive highlights, she is a versatile two-way player capable of simplifying zone entries on the wing or winning a key draw when necessary. For what it’s worth, she had a 52.9% face-off win percentage in her senior season.

Middleton joins former Wildcat teammate Tori Howran in the pod. Howran was a captain at UNH her senior season, finishing second on the team in points with 22 as a defender in 2019-20.