When I first started this post, my plan was for a CWHL vs NWHL showdown, but then I realised that instead of pitting the leagues against each other, I could just highlight the best players to end up with each league, and how I think the leagues will benefit from the players they chose.
The CWHL is currently pretty limited in who they can choose to draft, because generally speaking, they tend to only draft players who live/work in the cities the teams are based in. The NWHL, though newer and less established, can entice players with less city-based ties (for example, signing players like Nana Fujimoto, who would be unable to secure a work visa through the CWHL, but can through the NWHL).
This didn’t stop the CWHL from picking up some of the best players in North America in their most recent draft, though, as they managed to secure three gold medal winning Olympians in the first two rounds of the draft.
- Emily Fulton (Toronto Furies)
The second overall draft pick, taken by the Toronto Furies, forward Emily Fulton joins a team that already boasts offensive juggernaut and gold medal winner Natalie Spooner (15P in 20 games last season). In four seasons at Cornell, Fulton collected 131 points, and in her senior year, trailed only Brianne Jenner to earn second place on the team in points with 48. She also boasted 16 multi-point outings in her senior year, including 6 three point nights and her first career NCAA hat trick, more than earning her spot on the First All-Ivy Team honours. She’ll fit in well alongside players like Spooner, and CWHL-sophomore Kelly Terry to hopefully provide a scoring boost, and help the Furies get back to the Clarkson Cup playoffs this season.
- Sarah Edney (Brampton Thunder)
Edney became the fourth first overall pick in CWHL history last month, following her gold medal winning performance at the Nations Cup in Germany. The blueliner collected 88 points in four years with the Harvard Crimson, and in her senior year alone she was named the ECAC’s best blueliner and the ECAC tournament’s most outstanding player, was a finalist for ECAC’s player of the year, and was named to the All-Ivy League First Team (alongside fellow draft pick Emily Fulton).
Brampton is a defence first team, so it’s not a surprise that they chose Edney as their first overall pick. She’s regarded as a stay at home defender, who can add to the offence from time to time.
- Brianne Jenner (Calgary Inferno)
Jenner is the first Olympian on this list, and the first of two (!) drafted by the Calgary Inferno this year. Jenner led the ECAC in scoring in her senior year with 15 goals and 36 points, and will join fellow Olympians Haley Irwin and Cornell teammate Rebecca Johnston, as well as the Inferno’s second round draft pick, Hayley Wickenheiser, to try and give Calgary its first ever Clarkson Cup win.
Jenner graduated Cornell as the all time leader for assists, and was a member of the Women’s hockey Div 1 NCAA 200 point club, a club with fewer than twenty members. Jenner was also a two-time recipient of the Ivy League Player of the Year Award (2013, 2015) and of the ECAC Player of the Year Award (2013, 2015). Add that to her Olympic gold, her Worlds gold, her two Worlds silvers and a silver medal for the U-18 Worlds, 22 year old Jenner has a resume more impressive than many graduating players her age.
- Marie-Philip Poulin (Montreal Stars)
Marie-Philip Poulin has the unique success of scoring the last two gold medal clinching goals for her national team, scoring both goals in the 2-0 victory over the US in Vancouver, 2010, and the 2-2 and 3-2 (OT) goals, and graduated from Boston University as the all time leader in points, goals, and assists. She has previously played for the Stars, from 2007-09, before committing to BU, earning CWHL Rookie of the Year in 2008 at the age of sixteen, and helping the Stars win one of their three Clarkson Cups in 2009. At BU, she recorded 54 points in her senior year, and was one of this year’s three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier award.
She might just be one of the best Canadian hockey players ever, and she’s only twenty four years old. It’s hard to see her as anything but the future of this Montreal team, the league, and the sport in general.
- Hayley Wickenheiser (Calgary Inferno)
If Poulin is the future of women’s hockey, then Hayley Wickenheiser is the past and the present. The four time Olympic gold medal winner has been a pioneer in this sport since 2002, when she became the first female skater to sign with a men’s professional hockey league, HC Salamat in Finland. She is one of only five athletes to win four consecutive gold medals in the Winter Olympics, and she’s considering going to Pyeongchang for a fifth. She has over thirty gold and silver medals from international competition. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to say that Wickenheiser might be the greatest female hockey player there is, and she’s not done yet.
The NWHL is, compared to the CWHL, an infant. The league itself isn’t even six months old yet, and they’ve already managed to sign some of the best players in the world, based on Angela Ruggiero’s reputation, and a promise of financial stability, something the CWHL just can’t offer yet.
- Janine Weber (New York Riveters)
Weber made history this summer, becoming not only the first player in history to sign with the New York Riveters, but the first player to sign a contract with the NWHL. Weber previously played for the Boston Blades of the CWHL, and in 2015 became only the second European born player to win the Clarkson Cup, scoring the overtime winner in the Final against the Montreal Stars.
She’s a member of the Austrian Women’s National Team, and in 2013, at the Div 1 Group A World Championships, finished as the tournament’s leading scorer, despite being a defender.
- Nana Fujimoto (New York Riveters)
Team Japan was one of the biggest stories at the Olympics, and they snuck up on people again at Worlds in 2015, and Fujimoto was a huge reason for this. In Malmo, at Worlds, she was selected as Best Goaltender of the Tournament, ending the tournament with a .927 save percentage. Japan-born and trained Fujimoto is perhaps the best reflection of the international kind of play the NWHL wants to promote, and while the CWHL drafted four Japanese players last month, none of them are quite the same calibre. By signing Fujimoto, the NWHL is proving they can support players from all nations, not just North America.
- Brianne McLaughlin (Buffalo Beauts)
Playing out of Robert Morris University, where she graduated from in 2009, McLaughlin set an NCAA record of almost 4000 saves over her college career, and on four separate occasions in her senior year, made more than 50 saves in a single game, culminating in a .909 save percentage, good for second in the CHA. She also has two silver Olympic medals from 2010 and 2014 while playing for USA Hockey, and two gold World Championship medals from 2011 and 2013. She was the first player to be signed by the Buffalo Beauts this offseason.
- Hannah Brandt (Connecticut Whale)
The Minnesota Gopher was selected second overall, just behind fellow American Alex Carpenter (spoiler alert: number one on this list), and after three years at college, has already amassed 218 points in 120 games. She won gold with USA hockey at the U18 World Championships in 2011, and again in the World Championships in 2015. Though she can’t officially sign with the Whale until the 2016-17 season, watching her senior year at U of Minnesota is going to be a lot of fun.
- Alex Carpenter (New York Riveters)
Carpenter is another USA Hockey alumni, with one silver Olympic medal and two gold World Championship medals. The 2015 Patty Kazmaier recipient has the honour of being the first ever first overall NWHL draft pick, after a stand out junior year at Boston College, leading the NCAA with 81 points in 37 games. Like Brandt, she still has one more year of college hockey to play before she can sign a contract with the Riveters, but it won’t be long before she’s breaking records in the NWHL.