2016 CWHL Draft Preview: Rebuilding and Looking Ahead
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2016 CWHL Draft Preview: Rebuilding and Looking Ahead

2016 CWHL Draft Preview: Rebuilding and Looking Ahead by Jashvina Shah
Check out our CWHL Draft Prospects Interactive to learn more about where players are coming from to join the CWHL.

The CWHL draft is approaching, giving the teams a chance to restock and fix weaknesses. This year's draft class consists of 80 players scattered from several different countries and leagues, although most players hail from the NCAA and the CIS. The list also includes three former Buffalo Beauts -- Hayley Williams, Erin Zach, and Amanda Makela. In total, there are 39 forwards, 23 defenders, and 13 goaltenders available. There are also several players listed at both forward and defense.

While the overall player pool may seem expansive, each team has limited options of who it can draft. Prior to draft day, players choose where geographically they would like to play -- a rule established to help athletes balance work and hockey. But Blades General Manager Krista Patronick said this a "live draft," as some players have declared for two possible areas instead of just one.

The trick with this year's draft, as Brampton GM Lori Dupuis said, is balancing the current team needs with the future needs.

“You got to think going forward, so the tough thing is is we have a lot of [players] that are in the national program and will be leaving next year for to centralize for the Olympics,” Dupuis said. “So it’s something that we have to think about that in two years time, what’s our team going to look like when all those girls are gone.”

Last year's CWHL draft brought in some firepower to the league as Marie-Philip Poulin, Brianne Jenner, Hayley Wickenheiser, and Rebecca Vint were drafted. But this year's class has some power of its own, most notably in goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer. Not only is Maschmeyer the best goaltender available in the draft, but she’s also probably the best player available as a potential franchise goalie. Maschmeyer was a standout at Harvard and a member of Canada’s national team. Last season, Maschmeyer turned in a .938 save percentage for the Crimson, eighth-best in the country. She also backstopped Canada in three games in the World Championship last year, posting a .956 save percentage and playing impressively.

As a goaltender with Canada's gold-medal winning U18 World Junior Championship team in 2012 , Maschmeyer recorded a .984 save percentage in three games. While at Harvard, she earned the Ivy League Rookie of the Year Award, was named Co-Ivy Player of the Year and was named a Patty Kazmaier top-10 finalist as a sophomore. In her junior and senior seasons, Maschmeyer was named to the All-Ivy League First Team and finished as a finalist for ECAC Goaltender of the Year. She is Harvard's all-time saves leader with 2,538 saves.

Leading the defender draft prospects is Erin Ambrose, also a member of the Canadian National Team. Ambrose played with Canada's U18 team for three years, apearing in 15 games with 18 points. She earned two golds and a silver while competing for Canada in the U-18 World Junior Championship. In 2011-12 she was named the U-18's World Junior Championship's best defenseman. In her Clarkson career, Ambrose played in 132 games and netted 137 points (23 goals, 104 assists). Her 36 points freshman year led all rookie blueliners in the country and earned her the ECAC Rookie of the Year. As a senior, she was a member of Canada's gold-medal winning Four Nations Team. As a junior, Ambrose was nominated for the Patty Kazmaier award.

“When you’re looking at people like [Laura] Stacy, Ambrose, [Renata] Fast, you know some of those players are going to be fantastic players that are going to make a huge impact in this league this year,” Dupuis said. “Even if each team can get three, four, five players that are going to make an impact, then to me that’s a great draft year.”

The CIS side is headlined by Iya Gavrilova, a longtime member of the Russian National Team. Her time with Russia started in 2003 and includes last year's World Championship. She spent the past two seasons with the University of Calgary, where she totalled 80 points over 51 games. Last year she led the CIS with 43 points.

Katelyn Gosling was the second highest-scoring defender in the CIS with 19 points last season. She finished her career at Western with 70 points over 88 games. While Maschmeyer is the best goaltender available in the draft, Kelly Campbell is also an option. Her .948 save percentage was third in the CIS, and he finished the 2014-15 season with a.958 save percentage.

Here is a look at how each team is hoping to add in the draft:

Boston Blades

The Blades struggled last season, winning just one game, decided in a shootout. The Blades had the best goaltender in the league in Genevieve Lacasse, and had a stalwart defender in Tara Watchorn, who shouldered playing time each night, but struggled elsewhere on the ice. Defense and offense both struggled for the Blades. Lacasse faced more shots than anyone else in the league, and even when the Blades did have the puck, they just didn’t have the talent to score.

"We’re looking for anyone who’s just going to give the team depth, whether that’s a scoring touch upfront that we were kind of missing last season,” Patronick said. “I mean we have a little bit of that in Erin Kickham, but maybe someone to add to her line who is really going to be great up front and really put the puck in the net, or adding some more talent on defense where maybe we’re looking for another big body would be really helpful.”

The Blades are lucky they don’t need to pick up a goaltender in the draft, and they should be able to add defensive depth and bring back some firepower to its offense. But the Blades should look at defensive depth before offense, because many times last season they were unable to put six defenders on the ice.

“I just love the workhorse type of player, so anytime we get a player like that, and there’s a couple in the draft who I’ve seen because they’ve played with us here and there, whether that was at our prospects camp or whether that was on our team at the Beantown Classic, just that workhorse type of player I think is always great whether that’s offensive or defensive,” Patronick said. "I think that’s kind of the character of our team… I would take a mentally strong player over someone who maybe has talent who doesn’t try hard anyday. That’s just so important.”

Toronto Furies

The Furies did not fare well last season, finishing fourth in the league. Offense was the least of the team’s problems, thanks to Natalie Spooner. But injuries, defensive woes and lack of consistency issues prevented the Furies from playing well. The Furies skated without two of their top players, Julie Allen and Jenelle Kohanchuk, who missed the entire season with injuries. Kelly Terry, another key player, also missed a portion with injuries.

Adding some offensive depth to help Spooner would help, but the Furies need to focus on the defensive end. Christina Kessler was okay in net but had a tough task stopping pucks with a spotty defense around her. And even if the team is healthy, Allen and Kohanchuk’s presence would bolster the offense more than the defense.

Brampton Thunder

The Thunder had a spectacular season last year, turning a poor 2014-15 finish into a great 2015-16 season. The Thunder resembled a complete team that had some breakout offensive moments and upset the top teams. Brampton had the ability to hang with some of the better teams offensively and scored five goals four times this year. But while the Thunder scored, the Thunder also gave up a lot of goals -- often getting caught in shootout games.

"So we may fill in holes on defense, in goaltending, in forward, what do we need probably right now? Maybe a couple forwards, but you know I’m pretty happy with where our team sits now,” Dupuis said. “So if we can just fill in a couple spots you know I’d be pretty happy. I mean I was really happy with the way we did last year, and like I said if we can get maybe a goal scorer maybe another play maker and who knows, it would be great to even get a goaltender and a defense just to kind of round out everything.”

Highlighting the season last year was Jamie Lee Rattray, who had 29 points, and Laura Fortino, who had 28. Last year's rookie class was very strong for Brampton, and another good draft class could push the Thunder to the top. The Thunder also managed to find a goaltending solution, using a rotation between Liz Knox and Erica Howe for the most of the season. While the Thunder may be seeking some goaltending options, Howe's save percentage was second in the league last year.

"We have such an amazing D core, we have four of the [skaters] are playing with the national program and the other two [players] that have played with the Thunder for years so you know do we need defense? Who knows, unless there’s somebody that’s really good that is still available than we’ll probably take them,” Dupuis said. “But you know what going into the draft I don’t really have an preconceived notions as to who I’m picking, I’m going ot make a list from 1-20 and you know depending on who Toronto picks, it’s going to be kind of reactionary from there but you know it really does come down to what you need on a team because if you’re full on the back end and you’re full in the net or you’re full in the front end, you got to fill in holes for sure.”

Les Canadiennes

It's tough to pick a weakness for Les Canadiennes. They're a team with a good offense, defense, and goaltending and made it to the CWHL championship game, where they lost to the Inferno. Les Canadiennes had the top four scorers in the CWHL last season in Marie-Philip Poulin, Ann-Sophie Bettez, Kim Deschênes, and Caroline Ouellette, who had 46, 44, 33 and 32 points respectively.

"We’re quite particular about the kind of player that we’re looking for; [they] tend to be the all-around good players, leaders, really quality people and extremely talented players," GM Meg Hewings said.

"We’ve had a high turnover most of our seasons, obviously had quite a big influx of new players last year and are always looking sort of at how to rejuvenate the club, but we do expect a lot of returning players this year as well as a couple of strong draftees."

They also had a good goaltending option in Charline Labonté, but the defense lacked depth last season. The team had seven total defenders, including forward-turned-defender Karell Emard.

"We had maybe a few less defense than we were hoping to come into the system last season," Hewings said. "We were lucky to have such a well-rounded player in Karell Emard that came in as one of our top draft picks and she was versatile and adaptable enough to switch to defense and did a terrific job in that role. But she did that because of certain needs that we had in terms of strength and our depth on defense, so that’s obviously an area where we’ll be looking to draft some top talent.”

Calgary Inferno

It's equally as tough to find areas of improvement for the Inferno, the reigning CWHL champions. They have good goaltending, power on the back end, talented forwards, and had an excellent rookie class last year. Calgary's top scorer, Brianne Jenner, was seventh in the league in scoring and led a very deep group of Inferno forwards.

“I think anytime you go into the draft you’re always looking at what are the best players available for your team,” interim general manager Jeff Stevenson said. “And with that it factors into everything, be it where they want to play, where you see them fitting into the lineup and not just how you see it for this [year] but for multiple seasons as well.”

The trick will be drafting to maintain that dominance, as the Inferno will lose several players to retirement. Calgary will be without forwards Kristen Hagg and Jenna Cunningham and defender Kelsey Webster who are hanging up their skates at the professional level. Goaltender Kathy Desjardins has left the team due to a move.

“Yeah it’s, we’re kind of looking when we draft, just trying to [get] players that I think are going to put the work in and be there everyday, come out work hard to make the team,” Stevenson said. “And those that are successful at making the team continue to work hard and then be a tough team to play against that has energy, has excitement and has some skill.”

The CWHL Draft will take place in Toronto on Sunday, August 21.