23-24 PWHL Preview: Toronto

While we wait for puck drop, let’s take a look at the team PWHL Toronto will ice in season one.

23-24 PWHL Preview: Toronto
Photo Cred: PWHL Toronto on X

Toronto has gained a new women's hockey team, and fans are quickly embracing them. It didn’t take long for PWHL Toronto to sell out all of their home games and the hype is in fact real. On January 1st Toronto will be part of hockey history as they host New York for the first ever PWHL game. While we wait for puck drop, let’s take a look at the team Toronto will ice in season one.

Final Roster

Sarah Nurse
Blayre Turnbull
Natalie Spooner
Emma Maltais
Jesse Compher
Rebecca Leslie
Maggie Connors
Hannah Miller
Brittany Howard
Samantha Cogan
Alexa Vasko
Kaitlin Willoughby
Jess Jones

Jocelyn Larocque
Renata Fast
Allie Munroe
Kali Flanagan
Lauriane Rougeau
Olivia Knowles
Maude Poulin-Labelle

Kristen Campbell
Erica Howe
Carly Jackson

Reserve List
Victoria Bach (LW), Emma Keenan (LD), Jess Kondas (RD)

On the staff side the team is led by general manager Gina Kingsbury and head coach Troy Ryan, both of who in the last 3 years have won three gold medals - two at world championships and one at the Olympics - with Team Canada.

Who isn't here?

There wasn’t much turnover to Toronto’s camp roster to their final roster. The team did bring on a new face in defender Maude Poulin-Labelle, who was a Montreal draft pick back in September. The signing bolsters Toronto’s already strong defensive core.

Mellissa Channell, who was originally drafted 59th overall by Toronto, found a spot on Minnesota’s final roster as she signed with them during the waiver period.

Meanwhile, the competitive nature of the pre-season resulted in Amanda Mäkelä, Toronto's fourth goaltender in camp, getting cut. The former Toronto Furies net-minder failed to secure a place on either the reserve list or the active roster.

Greatest Strength

A Strong Experienced Core

Heading into the inaugural PWHL season, Toronto has the oldest average roster age across the entire PWHL at 28.1.

There are only four players on Toronto’s roster who have never suited up for a professional season. Jesse Compher, Maggie Connors, Emma Maltais, and Poulin-Labelle all graduated from their respective colleges last season. Every other player across the lineup has at least one professional season under their belts, with most of their players with several years of experience.

Players like Natalie Spooner, Blayre Turnbull, Erica Howe and Jocelyne Larocque are no strangers to both professional play but also international play. Toronto’s final roster has 11 Olympic Gold Medals, 7 Olympic Silver Medals, 20 World Championship Gold Medals, 9 NCAA Championships, 7 Clarkson Cups (CWHL) and 3 Isobel Cups (PHF). That’s quite the trophy case if you ask me.

Defensively Toronto is steady, experienced and deeply strong. With Larocque and Renata Fast leading the way on the back end, it’s going to be really tough for teams to create easy scoring chances. Despite their preseason losing record of 1-2, Toronto showed up on the scoresheet. Scoring 13 goals in 3 games and out shooting their opponents across those 3 games 122-95.

Two big questions

What kind of goaltending will Toronto get?

Kristen Campbell, Erica Howe and Carly Jackson. What do those three have in common you might ask? Underrated, Champions and huge fan favourites. There’s a lot to like with Toronto’s goaltending situation.

With Campbell as their starter heading into their opening game she’s a bit of a wild card. The Manitoba-bred goaltender has flown a bit under the radar the last few seasons due to where she fell on Team Canada’s depth chart. She’s been Canada’s third goalie since the 2020 World Championships and hasn’t seen much playing time during her time wearing the red and white maple leaf. In her 5 NCAA seasons Campbell had a .929 SV% and a 91-16-7 record. As a starter with Wisconsin, Campbell shined. During the 2018-19 NCAA season she helped lead the Badgers to a National Championship and also took home the WCHA goaltender of the year award.

Toronto’s number two goaltender Erica Howe has decades of success in between the pipes. A National Champion with Clarkson, a Clarkson Cup with the Markham Thunder and a stint with Team Canada as well. The 31-year old goalie will not only push Campbell, but she will provide a massive amount of leadership and support for the young goalie.

Carly Jackson might be the most well known women’s hockey goalie across the fan base. Not only is she a huge fan favourite and a great locker room addition for Toronto, she brings security for Toronto’s goaltending depth. Jackson had a perfect 5-0 record with the Isobel Cup Champions, the Toronto Six as a backup. She also had a standout collegiate career with Maine where she recorded a .923 SV%.

With a solid No. 1 starter and two strong and two experienced backups ready to go if needed, on the surface level Toronto’s goaltending situation seems steady. The big question will be what kind of goaltending will Toronto receive. Will Campbell’s starter experience in college come back and make her one of the league’s best netminders? Or will her lack of consistent playing time over the last few years come back to hurt her chances of securing that No. 1 role?

Is Toronto just a glorified Team Canada?

With Kingsbury and Ryan running the show for PWHL Toronto, there’s no hiding the Hockey Canada talent that this roster has across it. There are only 3 players on the team’s roster that weren’t born in Canada. Heading into their first season, Kingsbury and Ryan know what they are getting with a lot of their players, especially those who are active National Team Players and have played for them. They know what defensive pairings work, they know who will have a strong voice in the locker room.

When you look at Toronto compared to a team like Ottawa who have several different countries represented on their roster, it’ll be interesting to see how a team made up of mostly Canadian born players will perform compared to a more diverse team.

Players like Sarah Nurse, Natalie Spooner and Renata Fast have been playing for Team Canada together for several years now and have of course created an abundance of chemistry together. As Toronto heads into their first season, their team certainly will not lack any chemistry.

“Real Rookie” to Watch

Emma Maltais

It didn’t take long for Emma Maltais to hear her name called at the PWHL Inaugural Draft. With the 11th overall pick Toronto selected the Burlington born speedy two-way forward who just finished a stand-out college career at Ohio State.

Maltais left Ohio State as the Buckeyes' all-time leader in both assists (140) and points (206) in 169 games played. As a current active National Team member for Team Canada, she's won world championship gold medals in 2021 and 2022, a silver in 2023 and Olympic gold in 2022. Emma Maltais will head into her first pro season when Toronto takes the ice on January 1st and she is definitely a young player to watch not just on this Toronto team, but across the whole league. 

When Maltais takes the ice for Team Canada she often finds herself in a defensive position rather than the offensive style she played with the Buckeyes. Now with the chance to find her stride in her professional career she will have the opportunity to play alongside players like Brittany Howard, Sarah Nurse and Hannah Miller who all are known to be able to bury the puck with ease. In my opinion I could see Maltais a point-per-game player who will constantly rack up assists and a clutch goal every game or so. 

MVP Prediction

Blayre Turnbull

At age 30 Blayre Turnbull continues to put points up on the scoresheet and be a leader in ever locker room she enters. During Toronto’s first preseason game Turnbull had a hat trick less than half way through the second period. If Toronto can utilize Turnbull in the way she thrives, she will be this team’s MVP. 

If Turnbull plays on a line with Sarah Nurse, a player she has already generated a bunch of chemistry with, we could see an MVP caliber season for Turnbull.

Standings Prediction

This league is going to be a bloodbath. There is so much talent all across the board I’m honestly having troubles predicting the standings for season one. But if I absolutely had to place Toronto anywhere I think I’d have them about the middle of the pack at third place. 

When I look at the other teams, some of them have more speed and star power than this Toronto team does. I think in a 24-game season that could come back to bite Toronto. That’s not to say Toronto won’t be competitive every night but I most definitely don’t see them running away at the top of the standings.

Toronto's Schedule