Since the NWHL’s inaugural season, the league has attracted talent from north of the border. In the 2017-18 season there are 15 players who were born outside of the United States playing professional hockey in the NWHL; 14 of those players are Canadian. Today we’re going to turn our attention to some of the best Canadian players skating in the NWHL.
Given Buffalo’s proximity to the border it should come as no surprise that the Beauts have the highest proportion of Canadian talent in the league. Half of the NWHL’s Canadian talent currently plays in the Queen City for the defending Isobel Cup Champions. But the Riveters and the Whale also have some noteworthy players, including the league’s longest-tenured captain and one of the highest-scoring forwards in NWHL history.
When you’re talking about Canadian talent in the NWHL, Babstock has to be right at the top of your list.
Babstock is the highest-scoring Canadian skater in NWHL history. Before the season began she was tied for third with Kelli Stack for all-time NWHL points as well as the Whale’s franchise record in points. To the surprise of no one, it didn’t take Babstock much time to eclipse her former teammate in the record books. In four games this year with the Connecticut Whale, Babstock has one goal and four assists.
An Isobel Cup Champion with the Beauts in 2017, Browne is the only player in NWHL history to have a shorthanded goal in three different seasons. It’s safe to say that he’s one of the most dangerous players in the league when his team is killing a penalty. But there’s a lot more to Browne’s game than killing penalties, and this year he’s proving that with the Riveters.
This season the Oakville, Ont., native has embraced an opportunity to play in a more offensive role. Browne is one of three Canadian players with five points in the first four games of the 2017-18 season. The season is still young, but Browne already looks like one of the best free agent signings of the offseason.
Roesler hails from Stittsville, Ont., but is no stranger to playing hockey in Connecticut. Before joining the Whale last season she was the captain of Quinnipiac University, where she had 52 points in 148 games. Roesler hasn’t piled up many points in the NWHL thus far, but she plays sound two-way hockey and is among the league’s most underrated defenders.
Roesler was crucial to the Whale’s defense last year after Connecticut lost both Molly Engstrom and Ivana Bilic after the NWHL’s salary cuts. This season it looks like she’s picked up right where she left off by bringing consistency and stability to the Whale’s blue line.
The Isobel Cup Champion and Minnesota alumna is the only Canadian-born goalie in the NWHL this season. The spotlight is focused on Leveille because of Brianne McLaughlin’s retirement and the pressure for the Beauts to repeat as champions. The good news for Beauts fans is that she’s no stranger to dynasties. Leveille won three NCAA titles as a Golden Gopher.
This season Leveille has backstopped Buffalo to a 2-2-0 record with an .867 save percentage. Those numbers hardly jump off of the page, but it’s worth mentioning that Leveille is the only goaltender to face the Riveters high-powered offense twice this season. In her games against the Pride and Whale, she’s posted a combined .907 save percentage. We haven’t seen her at her best this year.
The rest of the pack: Ashley Johnston, Sarah Casorso, Tatiana Rafter, Shannon Doyle, Juana Baribeau
Jones’ first NWHL season is off to a somewhat underwhelming start. No one scored more points in the CWHL last season than the former Brampton Thunder star, but Jones is still searching for her first NWHL goal. Of course, missing one of the Beauts first four games due to a suspension didn’t help her cause.
But Jones has still displayed flashes of brilliance with her new team. When her tenacious, aggressive style of play doesn’t take her off the ice there are few players in the world of women’s hockey with quicker hands or better vision than Jones. The goals and points will come.
Edney was the Thunder’s first overall pick of the 2015 CWHL Draft but, like Jones, she took her stick and skates south of the border this season. A balanced defender with significant puck skills, Edney has played a huge role for Buffalo in helping to fill the void left by Emily Pfalzer and Megan Bozek.
Edney is capable of playing a lot of minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill while still having enough left in the tank to contribute on the power play. When you’re operating with a short bench and a rotating cast, having a player like Edney, who is comfortable eating up a lot of minutes, is a huge asset to a team. Through her first four games in Buffalo it’s clear that she’s essential to Buffalo’s zone exits and transition game.
There is perhaps no bigger surprise this season than Beauts rookie winger Taylor Accursi. The Mercyhurst alumna’s five goals in her first four games has her tied with Alexa Gruschow for the league lead. Accursi also leads the league in power play goals and is second among NWHL rookies in points.
As evidenced by her 42 percent shooting, Accursi’s stick is red hot. We can safely assume that she won’t have a 42 shooting percentage at the end of the season, but given what she’s accomplished in the first quarter of her rookie season she’s become a must-watch player this year. It also goes without saying that Accursi is one of the leading candidates to get the nod from members of the media as the rookie of the year.
The rest of the pack: Rebecca Vint, Jessica Sibley