2024 Draft Recap: PWHL Minnesota

The defending Walter Cup champions may have made it so much more difficult than they needed to when they made their selections last Monday in St. Paul.

2024 Draft Recap: PWHL Minnesota
(Photo Credit: PWHL)

It should have been a slam dunk for unexpected Walter Cup champions PWHL Minnesota. Everything was right there for them to make this, the second-ever league draft and the first held right on their home ice, a successful outing for them. And depending on whom you ask, that might well be the case.

Still, there are a couple massive elephants in the room that the league and Minnesota organization may feel they've adequately addressed, but their fans definitely do not. Not only was this draft held almost immediately after the unceremonious ousting of Natalie Darwitz from her role as general manager, but they then managed to draft a player with a host of controversies on her resume before she even graduated college. Thus, what should have been nothing but a triumph was instead pockmarked by boos, discourse, confusion, negative sentiment, and oh yeah, more boos.

Let's try our best to dissect this crop of athletes as fairly as possible, and go over what's next for the Minnesota franchise as they face an off-season with (hopefully) new branding and new challenges.

Round 1: Claire Thompson | Defender | Princeton University/PWHL New York (Reserve)

Thompson was definitely not the pick I expected Minnesota to make, but it's a great one for them. The Princeton grad was on the reserve list for New York last season while she was in medical school, and she's since decided to pursue her pro hockey dreams this year instead of finishing. (In fact, she missed the festivities because she was still attending classes at the time, which is the most power move I've ever witnessed at a women's hockey draft.)

One of the top blueliners available, Thompson factored heavily into Canada's gold medal win at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing with 13 points in seven games played, and doubtless she'll be able to help out in transition play and boost players like Taylor Heise and Grace Zumwinkle. Coach and acting GM Ken Klee ostensibly stuck with the idea of "draft the best available" that all general managers go with early on in the draft, and it definitely is true here.

Round 2: Britta Curl | Forward | University of Wisconsin

RIP my comments and Twitter replies, am I right?

Say what you want about Curl's game – it's solid. She has an impressive pedigree from Wisconsin, where she was a huge part of their success, and that has translated over to Team USA. Mark Johnson knows how to craft good hockey players, and her two-way game will be very well-suited to the PWHL as far as I can tell. Many have also stated that Curl is a great teammate and person to those immediately around her. I could write so much here about how we cannot use personal, one-on-one communication to excuse a broader belief system, but that column is already on its way and I don't want to delve into it here. Frankly, there are six other players I would much rather give that time to.

Instead, I'll just ask this: What is the league and PWHL Minnesota specifically going to do to help this kid broaden her worldview and help repair the already sizable rift between herself and a fanbase that has long championed inclusion? Because it will take a lot more than that non-statement they parroted from the league, and it will be a tall order to ask of a 24-year-old who honestly might still not understand what all the fuss is about. More on that later. Also – Ken Klee, you're not smooth for making Mira Jalosuo and St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter, an LGBTQ woman and Black man respectively, stand alone on that stage making this pick. Do better.

Round 3: Klára Hymlárová | Forward | St. Cloud State University

Hymlárová is a key part of Team Czechia and another surprise pick by Minnesota for reasons I'll detail in my final thoughts. For some reason, some folks had Hymlárová going later in the draft, discounting her playmaking abilities and overall draft value for nebulous reasons I don't think are all that fair. Let's discuss why.

In the grand scheme of things, she played all over the roster for both Czechia and the Huskies, even playing significant minutes on the blueline for SCSU. She was able to help carry the Huskies offensively, no small feat for a team that struggled to score goals, and she handled both special teams units easily. If you have the opportunity to draft a player who can and will literally play wherever you put her – not to mention, a player who seems to have a great locker room personality – why wouldn't you? I would.

Round 4: Brooke McQuigge | Forward | Clarkson University

McQuigge's name might sound familiar to longtime women's hockey fans, as she's the younger sister of PWHL Ottawa netminder Rachel McQuigge. Make no mistake, though – Brooke is a solid player in her own right. Having tallied 33 points in 40 games with Clarkson in her senior season, she can turn on the jets and make scoring look very easy if you give her the space.

Some folks may have thought this pick was a bit of a wild card from Klee, considering their limited understanding of what makes a good hockey player and a good player for the system he's trying to implement (see my thoughts on Hymlárová above). However, her style of play – relentless, physical edge, able to burn you if you're not careful – is exactly what I have come to expect from Minnesota. I think she'll fit in perfectly.

Round 5: Dominique Petrie | Forward | Clarkson University

Petrie is a great depth pick, having scored 35 points in 40 games in her grad season with the Golden Knights. A transfer from Harvard to Clarkson, she helped them get back to the Frozen Four with a quadruple-overtime winner against (who else) Minnesota, and her nose for the net ensures no goalie will get a moment's peace if they can't manage their rebounds. She also has Team USA pedigree, having captained the 2019 U18 squad and been invited to evaluation camps for the senior team for Worlds (most recently this year).

Round 6: Mae Batherson | Defender | St. Lawrence University

I really enjoyed this pick, mainly because I really enjoyed watching St. Lawrence play this year. This is a team making its way up the ECAC ranks, and a big part of that was due to the leadership and play of Batherson, who joined them from Syracuse and tallied 37 points (29 assists) in 39 games played. She's a great skater and puck mover, and the idea of her, Thompson, and Sophie Jaques on the same blueline is just so much fun to think about. If all of them stick, Minnesota will have three young, mobile defenders to build a team around, and that's just so much better than one, isn't it?

Round 7: Katy Knoll | Forward | Northeastern University

I think this was a good final pick from Minnesota, whom at this point knew what they were going for and made that clear. Knoll hails from Hockey East, where she scored 28 points for the Boston-based Huskies and led all forwards in the conference with 46 blocks, a clear sign she's willing to do what it takes defensively as well.

A more fun fact: Knoll is a 716 girl! She was born and raised in Amherst, N.Y, and is an alumna of the Nichols School (following in the footsteps of PWHL Ottawa star and former Buffalo Beaut Hayley Scamurra amongst others). The Buffalonian in me was very excited to see a hometown girl get picked, and I think she'll be great as a roleplayer in Minnesota should she make the final roster.

Final Thoughts

First of all, the fact that there were a host of WCHA players available and only two of them were drafted by the one team set firmly in WCHA territory is incredibly interesting. I guess it's a testament to the idea that there are rapidly growing hotbeds elsewhere than the Midwest, something especially true with the rise of ECAC Hockey. New York hockey in particular – Clarkson and Colgate were two of the teams that made the Frozen Four this year, and St. Lawrence made a great push as well. I think it's a good sign of things to come especially as we see more Raiders, Saints, and Golden Knights declare for future drafts.

Next, it's clear to me that Minnesota was drafting for depth. So much of the offense was placed on the back of Heise, Zumwinkle, and Kendall Coyne Schofield until the postseason. With players who can fill the bottom-six roles and add grit to take some pressure off of the top-six stars, as well as defenders who are able to fill the gaps in the middle of the ice and get the puck moving, I can see the defending Cup champs really evening out this coming season and getting a well-rounded team on the ice.

The first surprise on my end is the lack of a goaltender, especially considering the overall age of the trio that minded the net this first season; however, I'm guessing they'll bring in a couple of camp invites to push incumbents Nicole Hensley and Maddie Rooney, as well as backup Amanda Leveille.

The other surprise: Why did they give up Abby Boreen? Boreen was a reserve for Minnesota last season who had to re-declare for the draft to be able to play this season. She did well in her brief outing (nine games), clearly enough for them to sign her short term and for her to get her name on the Walter Cup. Instead of the easy pick for Minny, though, she slipped to Montréal later in the third round while Minnesota went for Hymlárová. I don't know what the thought process was there, and as Boreen has apparently indicated she really only wants to play in St. Paul, I don't know what happens next. Maybe a trade? But whom do you give up? Claire Thompson, whom many thought would end up with Montréal? Hymlárová, who can be a jack of all trades if given the opportunity? It's a situation that maybe didn't need to be made as sticky as it has.

Lastly... well. We already know what they have to do from an off-ice perspective to make anyone care about the on-ice product. Do I think Klee and Co. have the faintest clue how to navigate that, though? The jury is still out on that one.

Final Grade: B