2024 Top 25 Under 25: Honorable Mentions

The 2024 Top 25 Under 25 starts today with six players who just barely missed the list.

2024 Top 25 Under 25: Honorable Mentions
PWHL Ottawa's Gabbie Hughes celebrates after assisting on a goal by Savannah Harmon (right). Photo by Andrea Cardin/Freestyle Photography via PWHL.

Voting for this year’s Top 25 Under 25 was competitive, and a number of highly talented and impressive young athletes did not make the cut. Here are the Ice Garden’s six honorable mentions for the 2024 ranking.

Viivi Vainikka

A superstar for Team Finland and Luleå HF, Viivi Vainikka earns an honorable mention in our 2024 25 under 25. Vainikka joined Team Kuortane, a team in Finland’s top league, at just 15 years old. In her final season with Kuortane, she put up 28 goals in 30 games and won the Emma Laaksonen award for fair play. Vainikka chose to head to Sweden the following year to play for Luleå HF, where she scored two goals in her first game. In 2023, Vainikka led the SDHL in short-handed goals and plus/minus on the way to winning the SDHL championship. 

On the international stage, Vainikka helped Team Finland to a historic silver medal finish at the 2019 Women’s World Championships.  She consistently puts up high numbers in international tournaments. At just 22 years old, it’s safe to say she’s got an even brighter future ahead of her. 

Nelli Laitinen

Another Finnish superstar, Laitinen is a 5’7 defender for Team Finland and the University of Minnesota. In 39 games with the Gophers in the 2023-24 season, Laitinen had 23 points, including six goals. In the World Championship, she had four points in seven games while helping her country take home a bronze medal. At 22 years old, the defender has collected five medals playing for Team Finland along with a long list of accolades attributing her as one of the best defenders not only for Finland but in any tournament she is in. In 2022, Laitinen was slotted at No. 16 on this list and with a few more years of eligibility, I would expect her to rise on the list again as her ability to score while defending is only getting better.

Akane Shiga

Signed by PWHL Ottawa in their inaugural season, Akane Shiga first caught international attention playing for Team Japan at the 2019 IIHF World Championships where she earned her first point at a Senior National Championship. Shiga continued to excel on the international stage as the leading scorer for Team Japan in 2022 and 2023. She also had three points for Team Japan at the 2022 Beijing Olympics where the team finished sixth. 

Shiga impressed in her 24 game stint with PHWL Ottawa, picking up two goals. Her speed is what sets her apart from other third or fourth line forwards. Currently unsigned, PWHL Ottawa fans are waiting to see if Shiga will get another chance to shine for the team this season. 

Nela Lopušanová

In 2023, Nela Lopušanová scored nine goals and 12 points in five games for Slovakia at the U18 Women's World Championship, taking home Top Forward and MVP honors. She did not replicate her jaw-dropping performance at the tournament this year, but she did show that her game is transferable to North America in her first year at Bishop Kearney. Playing for the 19U team, the 16-year-old Lopušanová registered 25 goals and 47 points in 30 games, finishing among the top players in the country in points per game. She will become eligible to verbally commit to an NCAA school on August 1, so we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for an announcement!

Gabbie Hughes

After ranking 19 in our 2022 25 under 25, Gabbie Hughes has slipped a little to end up in the honorable mentions. This isn’t overly surprising, as she went from dominating in the NCAA to a very competitive inaugural season with PWHL Ottawa. Even still, the Patty Kazmaier nominee put up strong numbers in her first professional season. Hughes tied PWHL Ottawa Captain, Brianne Jenner, for second in scoring for her team, and put up 12 points, sixth best among rookies. 

In the NCAA, Hughes led the Bulldogs in points as a rookie. She was one of three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award in 2022, and was named First Team All American that season. 

Internationally, Hughes earned gold at the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championships. 

Personally, I think she deserves to be in the main list, and I expect we’ll see Hughes excel in her second season for PWHL Ottawa. 

Julia Gosling

It’s safe to say Julia Gosling is on the up-and-up. The 23 year old was one of two NCAA players to make the 2023/2024 Rivalry Series roster for Team Canada. She also won gold with Team Canada at the 2023 IIHF World Championships, putting up two goals in seven games. Gosling also won bronze and gold with the U18 Canadian women’s team. 

Gosling played her college hockey at St. Lawrence University where she led the team in points in 2022 and 2023. In 2023, she was named to the ECAC Hockey All-Academic team for the fourth time in her NCAA career. 

At the 2024 PWHL Draft, Gosling was drafted sixth overall by PWHL Toronto. She signed a two-year deal with PWHL Toronto on June 25. I expect we’ll see her make the actual list next year after a pro season under her belt.