Predicting Needs for PWHL Minnesota at the 2024 Draft

With nearly all of their best players already on contract, Minnesota may have the most uncomplicated selection of any team in the league.

Predicting Needs for PWHL Minnesota at the 2024 Draft
Grace Zumwinkle leads the way down the line after a goal. Photo via Arianne Bergeron/PWHL.

Minnesota took the inaugural PWHL season in fits and starts. They were ranked first in the league mid-season, battling for the top spot with Toronto and Montréal, but their season took a downturn after the international break and they barely made the playoffs. The fourth seed then defeated a Toronto team that seemed unbeatable in five games, then beat PWHL Boston to earn the first ever Walter Cup title.

As the team with the fourth-best regular season record, Minnesota will pick third in the second PWHL draft. They have two goaltenders and nine skaters returning; all of the latter group are amongst their top ten scorers this season. Minnesota may have the most uncomplicated selection of any team in the league.


Nicole Hensley and Maddie Rooney were teammates on Team USA for years, and they split the starts in Minnesota with the ease of players familiar with each other and with winning. Their regular season stats were almost identical: Hensley edged out Rooney with seven wins and a .919 save percentage in 14 starts, while Rooney's 2.08 goals against average topped Rooney, and she recorded wins in five of 10 starts. Hensley is signed for two more years; Rooney is signed for one more year. Minnesota has nothing to worry about at this position, and it would be a surprise to see them take a goaltender in the draft.


Minnesota has four returning defenders, tied with New York for the most of any team. Lee Stecklein, one of Minnesota's first signings before the inaugural draft, and Sophie Jaques, who was acquired mid-season in a trade with Boston, are signed for two more years. Minnesota should be happy with that, as defensively-sound Stecklein and promising young Jaques were the best defenders on the team this year.

Natalie Buchbinder and Maggie Flaherty are each signed for one more season, and the rookies finished tied for eighth in team scoring this year. Both were in their rookie season and didn’t look out of place at the professional level.

Mellissa Channell is a player Minnesota would like to have at their training camp in the fall to compete for a roster spot next year, if they don't choose to re-sign her before it. A stay-at-home defender, Channell’s solid defense was a big part of keeping Marie-Philip Poulin and PWHL Montréal’s other offensive threats at bay. 

These players represent a solid defense corps. While there’s always room for improvement, especially in a draft as full of talent as this one, Minnesota has the luxury to pick defenders when they feel like it; not as soon as they can afford.

That being said, Minnesota’s third pick would allow them to pick a right-side defender who deserves to be drafted at that position. Although they were teammates at Boston College, Cayla Barnes doesn’t play with Megan Keller on Team USA because at age 25, she serves as the veteran on the second pair. Having Barnes on the right side would immediately make Minnesota’s blue line one of the most formidable in the league.

However, if Minnesota is confident enough in Sophie Jaques to anchor the right side of the second pair, they may use that pick on a forward. After the first round, they could select Anna Wilgren, a former captain at Minnesota State University who played with Team USA at the 2023-24 Rivalry Series. Later on, the team could take Chayla Edwards, a right-side defender who played at the University of Wisconsin with Natalie Buchbinder. Both are defensively responsible players who could support some of the more offensively-minded Ds already on the Minnesota roster.

Also fitting that profile would be a local product in Madeline Wethington. The Edina native spent five years at the University of Minnesota and led the team’s defenders in scoring for the last three seasons. With a number of UMinn alums already on the PWHL roster, Wethington could be a comfortable fit in the bottom four.

(Minnesota also has the opportunity to do the funniest thing and take RHD Claire Thompson in the first round, one pick before Montréal could reunite her with her Team Canada partner Erin Ambrose. But I’m sure they would hate to play spoiler to a Canadian team.)

Just like the other teams in the league, Minnesota will be looking to shore up their defense this year. But unlike other teams, they have Lee Stecklein and Sophie Jaques, and that gives them a lot of opportunity to be creative.


Minnesota might be in the best situation in the league for returning forwards this year. Of their top six scorers up front, only Michela Cava is not already on contract for next season. Those players have developed chemistry and have proven their success in the league. That leaves Minnesota with the enviable task of drafting for depth and fit rather than trying to plug holes.

Four of Minnesota's returning players are on three-year contracts, and those are also their top four scorers. Captain Kendall Coyne-Schofield dispelled any concerns that her maternity leave would impede her ability to perform at an elite level. Taylor Heise became the league’s first Playoffs MVP after a successful regular season. Grace Zumwinkle tied for seventh in league scoring and is a finalist for Rookie of the Year. And Kelly Pannek was a stalwart veteran center on the squad, proving herself as one of the team’s original three signings.

Returning for the second of her two-year contract is Denisa Křížová. Although she posted only six points in 24 games, Křížová was a dangerous presence in the offensive zone.

Minnesota’s most pressing task at the forward position is to re-sign Michela Cava. Cava posted eight points in the 24 games of the regular season, then followed it up with another eight points in ten playoff games, tying the output of Playoffs MVP Heise. This is her fourth straight season winning a championship after wins in the SDHL, ZhHl, and PHF. The last two of those stops also included Playoffs MVP titles. Not bad at all for Minnesota’s 12th round pick. 

Minnesota has several other forwards who performed well and deserve at least being invited to next year’s training camp. Sophia Kunin and Liz Schepers in particular were solid bottom six contributors. Sydney Brodt also looked good on the ice after coming back from an injury sustained in the preseason.

With such riches in their forward pool, Minnesota has the luxury of choosing the best player available with their picks, or selecting by position as they deem fitting. With the third pick in the PWHL draft, the player that’s available could push returning forwards down the lineup; that’s a good position to be in since you’ll already know that player can perform in bigger minutes if there are any injuries.

If they choose to use their first pick on a forward, which seems most likely, Minnesota may want to draft a known quantity in Ohio State University product Hannah Bilka. On the left wing, her speed and offensive skill have shades of Kendall Coyne-Schofield and she would be a great fit with the young guns in Minnesota’s top six.

Former reserve winger Abby Boreen presents a simple question. Undoubtedly Minnesota would love to have her back, considering her impressive play with the team and her chemistry with her fellow Gophers alums. But other teams have had the chance to see her pro chops and will be vying for her services as well. If Minnesota wants her, they’ll need to spend a second or third-round pick to get her.

In the second round on, Minnesota might be interested in one of the best right wingers in the draft in Minnesota native Izzy Daniel. They could want the versatility offered by St. Cloud State graduate Klára Hymlárová, who plays center, wing, and defense and has centered Denisa Křížová on the Czech national team. They could also look at Minnesota native Gabby Rosenthal, who did not play last year but joined Team USA in the 2022-23 Rivalry Series.

In later rounds, there are a lot of forwards with ties to Minnesota who could create interesting dynamics on the team. Three Minnesota-Duluth graduates stand out. Anneke Linser is a winger who led Djurgardens in goals, assists, points, plus/minus, and PIM in her rookie season. Center Mannon McMahon captained the Bulldogs this year and seems like an ideal fourth-line center with her strong faceoff percentage and responsible play. And Naomi Rogge is a center who plays a physical game and has pro experience after a year in the SDHL. 

Minnesota already has one of the most threatening forward groups in the PWHL. The idea that they’ll have little holding them back in this year’s draft should delight their fans and intimidate fans of opposing teams.