There was an exceptional class emerging from the NCAA this year, and that means that each team in the nascent CWHL had an embarrassment of riches to choose from. It also means I can at long last stop marveling (= complaining) about how Montreal managed to get the first pick last year, and start marveling about why teams made the specific choices they did given all that was available in possible improvements.
- Alberta- Hillary Pattenden. This was the first and most egregious example of the league’s attempt to put a premium on local players in order to build gate for growing teams. It was a complete mystery to me why Pattenden, who has shown flashes of brilliance but whose progress has been uneven and who played in a weak conference, would go ahead of at least two goaltenders with more proven upsides. So I looked up her home region: British Columbia. Alberto is the only Western Canadian team in the CWHL. I am completely sympathetic to the notion that regional choices build interest. I just don’t know if that’s a better strategy than choosing to create the most competitive team. Pattenden could of course be fine at this level. Time will tell.
- Toronto- Rebecca Johnston. The Furies chose to improve primarily by entering the arms race rather than shoring up defense, which is probably smart in terms of fan interest, but it remains to be seen whether this will be the answer in facing down the likes of Montreal.
- Brampton- Hayley Irwin. Irwin is one of the more underrated players on Team Canada, which truly missed her when she went out of Worlds this year with an injury. This could be an incredibly meaningful pick for Brampton. [ps- hey CWHL, you’re running a java-related script on your site that is taking up more than 100% of my available processor space. May want to take a look at that].
- Boston- Hilary Knight. Here is where the regional thing really bites the Canadian teams. There is little question that Knight is the best pure offensive talent in this draft: big, strong, cannon shot, great hands and skating ability. Her numbers were down last year because of a selfless change of position, but move her back to the wing and she’s even more dangerous. Johnston and Irwin are both excellent picks, but if the two Canadian teams weren’t thinking local, this would have been the choice.
- Montreal- Charline Labonte. The one even vague flaw in the Star’s championship season was starting goaltending, and they set out to address that.
- Alberta- Jocelyn Laroque. Another player who often flies under the radar (and an academic star to boot). Strong stay at home defender. Sorely needed for this team.
- Toronto- Natalie Spooner. I suspect Toronto was going for two-way play here, but the issue with Spooner is she was the best player on a team that consistently underachieved. It could be she will break out at this level, but the opposite might also occur.
- Brampton- Bailey Bram. Another Mercyhurst product who benefited from her team’s conference, but will probably do well with the space to skate and score in the CWHL.
- Boston- Genevieve Lacasse. Boston has the best goaltender in the league, so unclear why they needed a back-up of this caliber, even if she did play in Hockey East.
- Montreal- Ann-Sophie Bettez. Time to see if CIS standouts can achieve at the same level as NCAA graduates. It’s not like Montreal had any missing pieces on offense anyhow.
The third round was also covered here but then I lost it in a pasting accident (thanks, Word Press, for your clipboard working so well). The take-home was that Alberta went safe with Watchorn, Brampton rolled the dice in a big way on McIntosh, Boston got another American steal with Schelper and this may be the puzzle piece that finally pulls them even with Montreal, but that Montreal got a huge pick-up with Prevost who mysteriously lasted this long.
As for the fourth and fifth rounds, I had a conversation with the hard-working Melissa Boufounos (@mbouf) on Twitter yesterday. She was totally right that I was asking who the hell Brampton had drafted in the fourth round and saying that was an issue. But I wasn’t being snarky because I am a yahoo who can’t name the members of the Canadian Olympic team. For the record, Brampton will definitely improve with most of its picks, although how much is the major question. I was being snarky because there will still a number of names on the board from the national teams. Brampton took Princeton product Charissa Stadnyk ahead of Jen Schoullis, and even more egregiously given their goaltending situation, Florence Schelling. It could be she’ll be a shut-down defender of the highest order and clearly that’s what they hope in selecting her, but it’s another sizable gamble. I’m going to hold off on discussing the rest of the late rounds until I can get a solid handle on some of the players I know less about, precisely because I don’t want to be that yahoo. The salient fact is that the already high level of hockey in the CWHL will go higher but also be more equitably distributed in the coming season, which can only be a huge boon to the league.