PWHL Coach Announcements; PWHL Draft Forecast: Minnesota and Ottawa
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PWHL Coach Announcements; PWHL Draft Forecast: Minnesota and Ottawa

PWHL Coach Announcements; PWHL Draft Forecast: Minnesota and Ottawa by James Domizio, Victory Press Staff

First thing's first: on Friday, September 15, the PWHL announced the six head coaches who have been hired to lead its teams. The general managers of the PWHL collectively made a splash by attracting some of the biggest current names in women's hockey coaching. 

  • Toronto's Gina Kingsbury brought along Team Canada head coach Troy Ryan, who is departing his position at Dalhousie University for the job. 
  • New York has signed Howie Draper from the University of Alberta, where he coached the Pandas women's program for a staggering 22 years.
  • Boston hired Courtney Kessel, who had just moved to the city in July to join Boston University as an assistant coach. Now, she has resigned that position in favor of going pro in Danielle Marmer's organization.
  • Charlie Burggraf joins Minnesota after a several-year hiatus from coaching; he previously helmed the men's and women's teams for Bethel University in St. Paul for a combined 14 years. 
  • Ottawa added Carla MacLeod, who has just coached Team Czechia to consecutive bronze medals for their first hardware in IIHF Women's World Championship history; she has also coached Team Japan and most recently was at the University of Calgary women's team for 2 seasons. 
  • Kori Cheverie, as expected, joins Montreal, after four seasons with Team Canada in an assistant role, not to mention spent five years with the Toronto Metropolitan University men's team.

Each of these coaches is a strong hire by their general manager and elevates the profile of their team heading into Monday's draft. Players selected by each of the six teams now know the coach they will be playing under if they sign, plus three of the world-class players they have a chance to join. 

Now, on to some draft forecasting...

PWHL Minnesota

The State of Hockey’s PWHL team has already picked up three players – 31-year-old forward Kendall Coyne Schofield, 29-year-old defender Lee Stecklein, and 27-year-old center Kelly Pannek – whose combined national team experience totals three Olympic gold medals, 15 World Championship gold medals, and a host of other regional and national accolades.

Coyne Schofield’s speed, scoring, and playmaking combine to make her one of the best players in the world, and her Team USA captaincy and four-year PWHPA presidency mean that she’s a likely candidate for Minnesota’s team leadership. Stecklein is a Minnesota native who’s gained acclaim as one of the best defenders in the sport while playing for Team USA, the NWHL’s Minnesota Whitecaps, and University of Minnesota in the NCAA. Pannek is a two-way playmaker and faceoff specialist as well as another Minnesota-born member of Team USA. 

Together, they set the template for Minnesota to become an offensive juggernaut that has no trouble keeping the puck out of their net, too.

What they need

Minnesota will almost certainly start the draft by taking 23-year-old Minnesotan center Taylor Heise with the first pick. In 2022, Heise won the Patty Kazmaier Award and the World Championship MVP award. Her assistant coach in the NCAA over the last two years was none other than Minnesota’s general manager, Natalie Darwitz.

They also need a starting goalie. Minnesota could try to snag one of three players in an earlier round: 29-year-old Nicole Hensley, 25-year-old Emma Söderberg, or 29-year-old Amanda Leveille. Hensley has consistently logged a low GAA and high SV% across games in the NCAA, NWHL, and PWHPA; Söderberg has had impressive performances for both University of Minnesota Duluth and Team Sweden; and Leveille is the all-time wins leader for the PHF and an alum of both University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Whitecaps. After picking first, their next picks are #12 and #13. That might be when they pull the trigger on a goalie.

What could help

In order to keep up with Stecklein, Minnesota needs a Top 2 defender whose offensive and defensive capabilities are equally solid. After they've taken Heise and a starting goaltender, two great options should still be available: 23-year old Maggie Flaherty and 27-year-old Kali Flanagan. Flaherty is a University of Minnesota Duluth alum who’s provided a steady defensive presence through five NCAA seasons and a U18 championship win. Flanagan’s NCAA, PHF, and PWHPA experience – including the final PHF Defender of the Year award –  make her an excellent choice, along with her gold medals at the 2017 World Championship and 2018 Olympics.

After that, if available, Darwitz would probably love to acquire 24-year-old forward Grace Zumwinkle, a young and creative American skater who Darwitz coached along with Heise last year. Zumwinkle has played at the World Championships and Olympics, and she would fit in well with a Team USA-heavy roster.

For a later pick, perhaps Minnesota would take French 24-year-old left wing Chloé Aurard. Across four seasons of NCAA play, Aurard only scored less than a point per game in her first season. She’s also a member of the perennial underdog French national team and has a history of being a great 1-2 punch with creative centers (see: Alina Müller). A player like Aurard could complement the type of center that Darwitz seems to be targeting.

With the amount of high-profile young and veteran players born in Minnesota, Darwitz can either continue to seek out a mostly Minnesotan squad or shake things up a bit – maybe even adding some of Team USA's Canadian rivals. But whatever direction Darwitz goes in, the team will definitely be representative of the North Star State.

PWHL Ottawa

Canada's capital was the first market to learn about its initial three players – 27-year-old forward Emily Clark, 32-year-old center Brianne Jenner, and 28-year-old goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer. Like the other five PWHL teams, there’s a lot of national team experience in those three picks.

A forechecking/scoring double-threat, Clark hasn’t played any pro league games, but her time on Team Canada has yielded an Olympic gold medal and two World Championship goal medals, and her tenure with the PWHPA was also a fruitful one. Jenner is the reigning Olympics MVP and has won gold at two Olympics and three World Championships. Maschmeyer is Team Canada's long-time second-stringer and "one of the best goalies in the world," according to general manager Michael Hirshfeld.

A team that aims to overwhelm you with skill, physicality, and strong goaltending? Sounds a lot like a recent two-time Stanley Cup champion: the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning. In order to follow Tampa’s blueprint, Ottawa will need a few more things.

What they need

With no defenders signed as of yet, it's easy to assume Ottawa would nab a blueliner in the first round, and would be thrilled to pick up one of two defenders: 29-year-old Erin Ambrose and 22-year-old Sophie Jaques. Ambrose is an Ontario-born offensive defender with an Olympic gold medal and two World Championship gold medals, and The Athletic's Hailey Salvian and Shayna Goldman have reported that Ottawa has already shown interest in the player. Jaques' availability is a more of a long-shot at 5th overall than Ambrose's, but the young 2023 Patty Kazmaier winner would be a massive boon to Ottawa's veteran roster.

If Ottawa doesn't pick Ambrose or Jaques in the first round, they could instead take 25-year-old Ella Shelton, 27-year-old Savannah Harmon, or 25-year-old Jaime Bourbonnais. Shelton is a defensive player who was born just outside of Ottawa and who has won gold at the Olympics and the World Championship; Harmon is a versatile American defender who won the World Championship this year with Team USA; and Bourbonnais is another Ontario native and Patty Kazmaier finalist.

But of course there's one player fans want to see more than anyone else: 30-year-old left winger Jamie Lee Rattray. Born in the Ottawan suburb of Kanata, the 2014 Patty Kazmaier winner and former CWHL MVP has won championships in the NCAA, PWHPA, and CWHL as well as securing gold medals at one U18 tournament, one Olympics, and two World Championships.

What could help

To add to their forward core, Ottawa could look to any number of candidates, but three that stick out as good fits are 26-year-old right winger Kennedy Marchment, 29-year-old forward Shiann Darkangelo, and 32-year-old right winger Natalie Spooner. Marchment's elite playmaking earned her a nomination for PHF Player of the Year in 2023; Darkangelo captained the Toronto Six in the PHF’s last Isobel Cup Final; and Spooner is a two-time Olympic and two-time World Championship gold medalist who captained the CWHL's Toronto Furies.

A 1B goaltender would make the team even more threatening, but Maschmeyer appears to have finally earned the No. 1 spot and likely won’t be giving it up quickly. Possibilities to back up Maschmeyer could include a goalie like Team Czechia's Blanka Škodová or former Toronto Six and Buffalo Beauts netminder Carly Jackson.

While all three currently signed players have extensive experience playing together, Ottawa doesn’t need to limit themselves to Canadians to become what Maschmeyer calls a "good character team." Hirshfeld just needs to keep adding players who are skilled, gritty, and able to cultivate a positive culture.

Look for the rest of our PWHL draft forecasts throughout the weekend! Next up will be Melissa's post on New York and Toronto, followed by Zoë's about Montreal and Boston.