2024 Top 25 Under 25: Daryl Watts (23), Chloe Primerano (24), Casey O'Brien (25)

See who comes in at spots 23-25 on our 2024 Top 25 Under 25 list

2024 Top 25 Under 25: Daryl Watts (23), Chloe Primerano (24), Casey O'Brien (25)
(Photo credit: PWHL, IIHF, Wisconsin)

23: Daryl Watts

by Mike Murphy

You don't become the most coveted free agent in the top professional league in the world if you aren't something special. And that is what Daryl Watts, 25, is – something special.

In her debut PWHL season, Watts shook off the rust that held her back in 2023-24 with the Toronto Six of the PHF. She scored a team-leading 10 goals in 24 GP with PWHL Ottawa and re-established herself as an elite goal scorer at the highest level of the game. Watts was a consistent threat for an Ottawa team that found itself locked in tightly-contested games all season long. She averaged 3.04 SOG/GP and finished her season with an impressive nine goals at even strength. Only six players scored at least 10 goals in the PWHL's inaugural season. Watts was one of them.

Through five college seasons split between Boston College and the University of Wisconsin, Watts scored 136 goals in 172 games played. She never finished a college season with fewer than 19 goals and won a national title with Wisconsin in 2021. Still, the most impressive feat of her collegiate career has to be her Patty Kazmaier win in 2018 as a freshman which was followed by three years of being a finalist. In that freshman season at BC, Watts racked up 82 points, including 42 goals in 38 games.

In her first pro season in the PHF, Watts joined the Toronto Six during the 2023-24 season and earned seven points in 12 games. She also earned an assist in the 2024 PHF playoffs to help the Six win what proved to be the final Isobel Cup championship. Now signed with PWHL Toronto, Watts' next big test will be continued success in the top league in the world and earning a spot on the Canadian national team. Watts has two U18 World Junior medals to her name but has yet to play for Canada's senior team at the Worlds or the Olympics. You could say that a gold in one of those two marquee events is all that is missing from her trophy case, but her pro career is only just getting started. There's certainly more greatness to come from Watts.

Coming in at 23 in our T25 U25 voting feels a little too low for someone who blazed a trail through college hockey the way that Watts did, but she was up against some serious competition. She may not be viewed as a franchise player by some, but she's an elite scorer that any team in the PWHL would want in their ranks. In Toronto, she'll be expected to add some electricity to a group that depended too much on the production of MVP Natalie Spooner and stars Sarah Nurse and Emma Maltais. With Watts in the picture, Toronto will be ready to light the lamp all season long.

24: Chloe Primerano

by Geremy

I’ll be honest with the fine readers of The Ice Garden: I had blueliner Chloe Primerano at no. 18 on my personal T25U25 list and think that 24 is definitely lower than she should be.

For those that have read my work this shouldn’t be a surprise; I’ve been a firm believer that Team Canada should have at least given her a look for the 2024 World Championship team even as just a power play specialist. Doesn’t look like such a hot take when Canada scored only TWO power play goals in the entire tournament and Erin Ambrose was replaced on the first power play unit by Renata Fast.

Despite her being lower than what she should be, Primerano being on this list is impressive as she’s (spoiler alert) the only U18 player who made the top 25 and she still has her U18 season to be played. Give her a year playing senior competition in the NCAA this coming season and next year’s T25U25 list will see Primerano shoot up an incredible amount.

In the case of Primerano, her 23-24 season doesn’t need much help from previous years to show how good she is. In the CSSHL U18, one of the top junior women’s leagues in North America, Primerano was the only player to hit the +30 goal mark (35) and +65 point mark (89). She then followed that up with 20 points in five playoff games. Next closest, U18 Team Canada player Morgan Jackson, had 13 points in her own five playoff games. For her efforts in the CSSHL U18 she was named the league MVP for the second year in a row and won the championship for the second year in a row.

As Billy Mays would say, “but wait there’s more.”

Primerano’s excellence didn’t just extend to dominating her peers in British Columbia. At the Canadian U18 Nationals she finished third in primary points (8) and helped BC win the Bronze Medal. On arguably the biggest stage at the U18 level, Primerano made it to the U18 World Championships and had a tournament for the ages. Her 16 points in six games set records such as: most points by a Canadian in a single tournament, most points by a Canadian blueliner in a single tournament, first hat trick by a blueliner in tournament history, and most points by a blueliner in a single tournament. Primerano also walked away with a few awards such as being tournament MVP, named to the tournament All-Star Team, named tournament Best Defender, lead the tournament in points, and named a top three player on Team Canada. The only blemish is she left Switzerland with a bronze medal instead of a gold.

How does the 23-24 season match up with the rest of her, relatively short, career up to this point? Honestly, it’s expected. At the age of 15 she jumped in the CSSHL U18 league and was fantastic. It was her first time playing women’s hockey and to play in a U18 league filled with U18 WHC Gold Medalists can be intimidating. She didn’t appear very intimidating as she had 48 points (including 20 goals) in 30 games as a blueliner to lead her team in points and earned her the honour of being the CSSHL MVP. She followed this up with 11 points in five playoff games for a CSSHL championship! Hasn’t even started her U18 season and yet her trophy case is absolutely brimming.

What’s next for Chloe Primerano? The easy task of being the greatest Canadian player since Marie-Philip Poulin. She’s beating MPP records at the U18 WHC’s and following a path close to what MPP did on her way to becoming Canada’s next superstar. What will be interesting is what happens next for Primerano. In an extremely rare move Primerano will be playing her U18 season in the NCAA with the University of Minnesota. If she shows well there and has another great U18 WHC, then there’s a decent chance she’s in the running for a Team Canada spot the same way MPP was in her U18 season. It’s an exciting time to be a hockey fan. We thought we only had Nela Lopušanová to look forward to as a generational talent. Chloe Primerano has put her name in the hat to be one of the next greats.

25: Casey O'Brien

by LJ Bachenheimer

Casey O’Brien was not a player to be missed, even on a strong Wisconsin team. She led the NCAA in assists with 50, becoming the first Badger and only the ninth player to tally that many. Her career-high 73 points in 41 games put her second overall in collegiate scoring. She was a reliable two-way player, with speed on both ends of the ice and consistency at the face-off dot.

O’Brien’s play in 2023-24 was complete and skillful as she helped lead Wisconsin to the WCHA Final Faceoff title and through the NCAA tournament to the National Championship game. She earned a host of awards, including First-Team All-WCHA, WCHA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, Patty Kazmaier Award Top Three Finalist, First-Team All-American, and USCHO Player of the Year. Off of NCAA ice, O’Brien made her debut for the US Women’s National Team in the 2023-24 Rivalry Series.

Last season showed off her strength as a two-way player, but she has always been an important contributor for the Badgers. In the 2022-23 season, she led Wisconsin in all offensive categories on the way to their seventh, and her second, NCAA National Championship. She was a Top Ten Patty Kazmeier Award finalist as a sophomore and won her first National Championship as a freshman. Before college, O’Brien was a U18 gold medallist in 2018. She also got some looks from Team USA when she played in the 2022 and 2023 Collegiate Series against Canada, but only got her call-up to the national team last year.

She'll be returning to Wisconsin for 2024-25 as a grad student, where she will likely continue to play a key role on both ends of the ice as she hones her strengths as one of the NCAA’s best centers. Much of the Badgers’ core is remaining and they’re a team that’s always hungry, especially in the wake of their loss to Ohio State in the National Championship. With another high-performing season in Madison, it’s entirely likely for O’Brien to be a top prospect for the PWHL’s 2025 Draft, especially if she gets more attention from Team USA.

Her stats and laundry list of NCAA awards absolutely warrant her inclusion on the T25U25 list; it would be a shame to leave off a Patty Kaz finalist. However, I think she’s ranked a little too low. If the numbers and accolades don’t speak for themselves, her skillful consistent two-way play should. It seems the deep group of young talent and O’Brien’s lack of significant national team experience hurt her ranking.