Billie Jean King and Taylor Heise pose for a photo at the 2023 PWHL draft after Heise was selected first overall.
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2023 PWHL Draft Recap: Minnesota

"Home-grown" was the common theme for PWHL Minnesota, with eight of the team's fifteen picks having a connection to Minnesota through birthplace or participation in the NCAA or PHF.

2023 PWHL Draft Recap: Minnesota by James Domizio

As expected, Minnesota kicked off the 2023 PWHL Draft by selecting a franchise player – and a home-grown one, at that.

"Home-grown" seemed to be the common theme for Minnesota, with eight of the team's fifteen picks having a connection to Minnesota through birthplace or participation in the NCAA or PHF.

When combined with the already-signed Kendall Coyne Schofield (F), Lee Stecklein (LD), and Kelly Pannek (F), Minnesota's draft crop has filled out the majority of their roster with experience and youth; offensive skill and defensive ability; and Team USA members with the league's only two Finns.

Draft picks

Round 1: Taylor Heise (F), 2000, NCAA (1st overall) – Minnesota native and University of Minnesota superstar center who won the 2022 Patty Kazmaier Award and was the 2022 IIHF World Championship MVP. While she wasn't named to Team USA's 2022 Olympic roster, the 23-year-old is one of the best players in the country and is only getting better.

Round 2: Nicole Hensley (G), 1994, PWHPA (12th overall) – Team USA's third-string goaltender, Olympic gold medalist, and three-time IIHF champion. Has logged consistently strong numbers in the NCAA, NWHL, and PWHPA, and was the first goalie drafted into the PWHL.

Round 3: Grace Zumwinkle (F), 1999, NCAA (13th overall) – Quick and dynamic young skater (and Team USA alum) who played with Heise under Minnesota GM Natalie Darwitz last year.

Round 4: Maggie Flaherty (LD), 2000, NCAA (24th overall) – Steady defensive presence who played five seasons of eligibility with University of Minnesota Duluth and has a lot of potential. (Darwitz dedicated the pick to 19-year-old Minnesotan goaltender Jori Jones of Gustavus Adolphus College, who died last month in a vehicle accident.)

Round 5: Susanna Tapani (F), 1993, DNP (25th overall) – The first PWHL player from Finland and the first PWHL player who did not play last year, Tapani is a mainstay on Team Finland and has seven medals combined in Olympic and World Championships appearances (six bronze and one silver, at the 2019 Worlds). She also has five senior-level gold medals at the ringette World Championships. The multi-sport athlete is the subject of a 2019 documentary called Jäänsärkijä.

Round 6: Clair DeGeorge (F), 1999, PWHPA (36th overall) – Played five seasons in the NCAA, won U18 gold with Team USA in 2017, and played in the PWHPA this year.

Round 7: Natalie Buchbinder (RD), 1999, NCAA (37th overall) – Won the NCAA championship in 2019, IIHF silver with Team USA in 2021, and U18 gold in 2017.

Round 8: Denisa Křížová (F), 1994, PHF (48th overall) – Prolific Czech goal-scorer and two-time World Championship bronze medalist who last played in North America in 2019 – with the Boston Pride. Křížová is also a top-level ball hockey player for Czechia.

Round 9: Sidney Morin (RD), 1995, PHF (49th overall) – Ex-Minnesota Whitecap who won Olympic gold with Team USA in 2018 and captained the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in the NCAA.

Round 10: Sophia Kunin (F), 1997, PWHPA (60th overall) – Played in the NCAA with University of Wisconsin, participated in Team USA's 2015 U18 gold medal win, and played for the 2023 PWHPA champion, Team Harvey's.

Round 11: Amanda Leveille (G), 1994, PHF (61st overall) – The all-time wins leader for the PHF, two time Isobel Cup champion, former Minnesota Whitecap, and a University of Minnesota alum.

Round 12: Michela Cava (F), 1994, PHF (72nd overall) – Former Minnesota Duluth Bulldog and veteran of the CWHL, SDHL, and the PHF's final champion, the Toronto Six.

Round 13: Liz Schepers (F), 1999, PHF (84th overall) – Minnesota-born NCAA alum who played her first pro season with the Minnesota Whitecaps last year.

Round 14: Minttu Tuominen (RD), 1990, PHF (73rd overall) – Prolific member of Team Finland and the second of two Finns drafted in the PWHL after Minnesota's Tapani. Tuominen played in the PHF last year and has won three Olympic bronze medals, four IIHF bronze medals, and one IIHF silver.

Round 15: Sydney Brodt (F), 1998, PHF (85th overall) – Darwitz's final pick of the draft was another Minnesotan, one who captained both the Minnesota Whitecaps (in 2023) and the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (for three years, a feat only equaled once before by a member of the team). Brodt won IIHF gold in 2019 and played in the PWHPA in 2020 and 2021.

By position, so far...

  • Forwards
    Kendall Coyne Schofield
    Kelly Pannek
    Taylor Heise
    Michela Cava
    Clair DeGeorge
    Susanna Tapani
    Denisa Křížová
    Liz Schepers
    Grace Zumwinkle
    Sophia Kunin
    Sydney Brodt
  • Right-handed defense
    Natalie Buchbinder
    Minttu Tuominen
    Sidney Morin
  • Left-handed defense
    Lee Stecklein
    Maggie Flaherty
  • Goalies
    Nicole Hensley
    Amanda Leveille

Minnesota drafted five of the eight players we thought they might earlier this week, but there's more to the team than its Team USA and Minnesotan core. General manager Natalie Darwitz has put together a strong goalie tandem, an electrifying prospective top line of American stars, and a steady blueline capable of making smart transition plays.

Minnesota has a lot of pieces to become a team to beat come the PWHL's first games in January 2024. This should be a team that can score goals – and that high-flying offense will hate to play against.

(Photo: PWHL/Lori Bolliger/Heather Pollock)