Seven Depth Players to Watch in PWHL Free Agency

Seven depth players PWHL teams will want to keep - or look to acquire - this off-season.

Seven Depth Players to Watch in PWHL Free Agency
Credit: PWHL

If there’s an adage that will just never go away: you win with your depth, especially in the playoffs. In a league this close in skill and where the star players all showed up (for the most part) the only separator is what do the players down the line-up do.

This was the story of the playoffs.

In the first round sweep against Montréal, Amanda Pelkey scored an overtime winner, and the tying goal in game three that sent that game into over where Boston finished the sweep.

How about PWHL Minnesota forward Liz Schepers who had three primary assists against Toronto in games three and four when facing elimination? Or her scoring the game-winning goal in game five of the Walter Cup Final against Boston? She’d go on to finish third in playoff scoring for the record.

Throw in PWHL Boston forward Taylor Wenczkowski scoring an overtime goal in game two vs Montréal. One goal doesn’t matter in the playoffs until it’s a playoffs where 3.38 goals were scored PER game. That means generally games were ending 2-1 so one goal means an awful lot when it’s 33% of the goals scored in a game. So naturally general manager’s are going to want to find at least one depth player who can contribute at the right moment. Let’s go through the list of players that GM’s are going to be looking to keep on their teams and the other GM’s are hoping are going to shake loose.

Quick note before we get into it. The parameters I followed to figure out what constitutes a depth player is setting the bar at 14.5 minutes of Average Time on Ice. 

Rebecca Leslie

If you’re looking for a prototypical bottom six player, look no further than the former Boston University and current Toronto forward Rebecca Leslie. Before Troy Ryan and co. realized just how good Hannah Miller was, Leslie and Miller made a deadly duo in the Toronto bottom six.

Now some general managers will hold some concern about what their aging curve analytics say about her, but what they will love about Leslie is her ability and willingness to drive straight through to the net. She’s not a player that’s going to create a lot of offence through fancy stickhandling or making impossible passes look easy. She’s going to cause chaos right at the net. This shows up in her assist column of her stat sheet. Leslie finished in the ~74th Percentile in primary assists among forwards, and, even more impressive, in the ~89th Percentile in even strength primary assists too.

Doesn’t take much to look at Leslie’s goal scoring history and figure out that while she’s not bad at it, she’s not the scoring threat that can just whip a shot on goal and expect one to happen. When Leslie is putting pucks on net it’s in-close and causing a rebound. So her 5.6 SH% you’re not expecting to get much better or worse. There’s always the possibility that Leslie has a career year but when building a team you’re looking at the most likely scenario which is not a lot of goals.

What are you looking at is one of the better shot generating forwards in the league at the ~78th percentile among PWHL forwards and third on Toronto in shots/60. She’s another forward that was getting top end minutes no matter where she was until recently. It’s hard to go into a depth role and accept you’ll be on the ice less. She’s done it though and is excelling. If a team is lacking that sort of drive-to-the-net forward, Leslie will be high on their free agent list.

Mikyla Grant-Mentis

The past two seasons have been a lesson in adversity for the former PHF MVP. Mikyla Grant-Mentis went from being on a powerhouse Toronto Six team, to a struggling Buffalo Beauts, and had to move from Ottawa to Montréal after her contract had been cut from the Ottawa roster. Despite all of that the soon-to-be 26 year old should be high on the list of depth forward options for teams.

In the same way that Rebecca Leslie is the ideal bottom six forward because of her physicality, Grant-Mentis is the ideal bottom six forward because of her defensive play. Being cut from Ottawa then coming back to be a trust forward on Montréal plays in her favour. She might have been handed some of the biggest learning lessons this season in the PWHL and if you believe she has the drive to learn from them she’ll be a valuable forward again next season.

Now what’ll also play in her favour is she was still productive on the offensive side of the game. Before being cut from Ottawa, she had a 9.249 shots/60 which finished as the fifth highest on the team. She also had two primary points and a primary points/60 of 1.541 to finish fourth on Ottawa.

Her numbers dipped a bit on Montréal but she still finished the season strong in the ~74th percentile for primary points/60, ~70th percentile in goals/60, and 67th percentile in shots/60. Add in her reasonable 9.5 SH% and teams should be confident in the quality of player they’re going to get next season. In a league that saw two good power plays and a lot of not so good ones, Grant-Mentis finished with three power play points in 13 games. Doesn’t sound like a lot but that’s in the 83rd percentile for PWHL forwards. She’s a versatile forward with an underrated playmaking ability, good shot, good speed and good defensive stick. If Montréal can’t bring her back other teams should be very interested.