PWHL: Early June Pre-Draft Updates, and Mock Draft!
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PWHL: Early June Pre-Draft Updates, and Mock Draft!

PWHL: Early June Pre-Draft Updates, and Mock Draft! by Zoë Hayden

The 2024 PWHL draft has 167 eligible players, but only 42 total selections will be made through 7 rounds. There's significant depth at every position, and it's hard to know where some players might land. Each team now has a foundation to build around, so their draft selections will likely come down to immediate need.

General managers are also in the process of negotiating contract extensions. Per the PWHL, each team has an exclusive window between June 1 and June 21 to negotiate contract extensions with players whose contracts are due to expire. Free agency fully begins on June 21, with the draft taking place right in the middle of that exclusive period, on June 10. So far, the only announced signing during the window is by Ottawa, who have inked a one-year contract extension with forward Natalie Snodgrass. Keep an eye on our offseason tracker spreadsheet for further updates!

Further news items:

Zoë's Mock Draft (Rounds 1 and 2)

For my mock draft, I'm just taking a stab at where I think each team might target their needs through the first two rounds. To prepare, I ranked each player into a tier based on their recent statistics and "upside" – i.e. how I think they might immediately contribute to a PWHL roster.

Round 1

  • New York (#1 overall) – Danielle Serdachny (F) (Colgate University, NCAA)
    • The more I think about it, and especially after the announcement that Greg Fargo will be New York's head coach, I think Danielle Serdachny makes a ton of sense as the team's pick. Serdachny brings something that New York doesn't already have as a big body who can use her size and reach to drive the net and create havoc in the goal crease. She gives New York a different, and dangerous, offensive look that could complement players they already have signed like Abby Roque and Jessie Eldridge – who will be adept at picking up rebounds she generates and benefiting from the space she creates.
  • Ottawa (#2 overall) – Sarah Fillier (F) (Princeton University, NCAA)
    • If Serdachny goes first, Ottawa can't pass on Fillier. The Princeton University phenom is a pure goal-scorer who can pick corners with abandon even against some of the best goalies in the world. That sniping ability was missed on Ottawa at times throughout the year as their most consistent goal-scoring came from disruptive efforts around the net or off the rush.
  • Minnesota (#3 overall) – Hannah Bilka (F) (Ohio State University, NCAA)
    • Because the draft order (other than Gold Plan points) is determined by regular season rankings, Minnesota won the Walter Cup and still gets the luxury of a third overall pick. While I think Cayla Barnes is an intriguing choice for Minnesota at #3, they already have four defenders signed for next season, and I'm not sure where Barnes fits in. I think Minnesota can stand to go for offense and select Hannah Bilka. Bilka plays a high-energy game, particularly around the net, that feels like a perfect fit for Minnesota.
  • Boston (#4 overall) – Cayla Barnes (D) (Ohio State University, NCAA)
    • Barnes is the best available defender in the draft and gives Boston a huge upgrade on the blueline. She is small in stature but she plays absolutely enormous, and has the ability to take pretty much anyone out of a play defensively. Her aggressive, physical style in the defensive zone and along the boards is complemented by her ability to work the blueline for offense with speed and creativity. With only two defenders under contract for next season in Megan Keller and Jessica Digirolamo, Boston has room to re-imagine their blueline a little, and Barnes is another all-around defender who could fit into their arsenal.
  • Montreal (#5 overall) – Izzy Daniel (F) (Cornell University, NCAA)
    • Montreal will be looking to instantly upgrade their depth scoring and I think Cornell phenom Izzy Daniel fits the bill. The 2024 Patty Kazmaier Award winner has a wicked shot and a willingness to put herself in tough areas of the ice to make a play. Her style is reminiscent of a player Montreal already has signed long-term in Kristin O'Neill, and that's a good kind of redundancy to have – a player who will crash the net but also has an elite shot to back it up.
  • Toronto (#6 overall) – Claire Thompson (D) (Free agent, signed as a reserve by New York for 2023-24 but did not play)
    • I tried to think of another player I'd take here that wouldn't make my first round so similar to The Ice Garden's very good mock draft of the first three rounds (featuring our very own Melissa Burgess – check it out!). But Thompson is the logical pick here as a Team Canada standout and a left-handed defender. She's an elite playmaker who brings a wealth of experience from the international level and I don't see Toronto going outside the box here if Thompson is available at #6.

Round 2

  • New York (#7 overall) – Amanda Kessel (F) (Free agent, most recently with PWHPA Team adidas)
    • Kessel is a bit of a question mark in this draft, and I'm not sure where she'll be selected. If she's still available, it'd be a smart pick for New York in the second round. She has not played a full season of competitive hockey since her junior year at the University of Minnesota back in 2012-13. That isn't to say that she's been away from the game – far from it. She has three Olympic medals and five World Championship medals since then. She took time off from hockey to work for the Pittsburgh Penguins last year, but should be able to bring both veteran leadership and elite speed to a New York team that needs both things this offseason.
  • Ottawa (#8 overall) – Ronja Savolainen (D) (Luleå HF, SDHL)
    • Ottawa gave up a solid two-way defender when they dealt Amanda Boulier to Montreal, and I think their defense struggled down the stretch because of it. Savolainen gives them an option who can eat middle-pairing minutes and take responsibility on both the power play and penalty kill when needed. She's kind of a utility knife as a defender, which is rare and could give Ottawa some much-needed versatility with how they deploy their blueline.
  • Minnesota (#9 overall) – Jennifer Gardiner (F) (Ohio State University, NCAA)
    • I see Minnesota looking at high-end offense yet again in the second round and selecting another forward. Left-wing Gardiner immediately provides great vision and playmaking ability (think defense transitioning to offense, something that Minnesota did well when they were on their game in their first season). Gardiner also has a big shot and will find great set-up partners in Minnesota for that aspect of her game.
  • Boston (#10 overall) – Elle Hartje (F) (Yale University, NCAA)
    • Hartje is a great addition for a team that struggled to put pucks in the back of the net at times all season (and in the playoffs despite their deep run). She's great at creating space for players around her and has an elite passing ability through traffic and in tight spaces. While she is primarily a center, her versatility and skill set could easily translate to shifts on the wing when needed. She could fit right into Boston's style – they play hard-hitting and create chaos, and Hartje is the sort of player who can confuse the coverage and finish chances during those battles.
  • Montreal (#11 overall) – Daniela Pejšová (D) (Luleå HF, SDHL)
    • Montreal could benefit from a left-handed defender who can turn responsibility in her own zone into a simple, clean breakout, and Pejšová fits the bill. She's only 21 but is already a veteran on the international stage with Team Czechia. While she doesn't get a ton of points, she plays the sort of defensive role that anticipates and supports the offense up-ice. She has the potential to be a shutdown D in the PWHL and contribute some depth scoring as well, and that kind of blueliner puts Montreal in a much less tenuous position for success.
  • Toronto (#12 overall) – Julia Gosling (F) (St. Lawrence University, NCAA)
    • With all the hype about Danielle Serdachny after Utica, some people might have forgotten that Julia Gosling also had a hell of a tournament at her first World Championships. Two people who haven't forgotten are Toronto head coach Troy Ryan and GM Gina Kingsbury. Gosling's rookie season could see her as a depth scoring threat on a Toronto team that is going to be re-thinking their bottom six this offseason.

Stray observations and questions

  • Where does a goalie go in this draft?
    In 2023, Nicole Hensley went 12th overall to Minnesota in the second round and became the first goalie selected in the draft. I don't think we see any goalies selected until the third round at the earliest, and it's not clear yet who really has a need to find a goaltender in the draft. Boston and Minnesota, the teams from the Final, both have two goalies signed already. New York has none, though Corinne Schroeder seems a likely candidate for a contract extension. Ottawa is trying to re-sign their backup in Sandra Abstreiter. Montreal will also need a backup, though Elaine Chuli played outstanding behind Ann-Renée Desbiens, but she was on a one-year deal. Toronto is also probably looking for someone who can really fill in if Kristen Campbell needs time off.

    There are several great goaltenders available who have starting capability, but there aren't any starting jobs on the table, and not a lot of #2 jobs, either. Season two will be longer, and backups or 1B goalies might get more starts in that situation. Netminders who don't have contracts are probably making decisions based on how important it is for them to actually play more than a handful of games. Gwyn Philips and Klára Peslarová seem most likely to be selected. I'd tag Toronto or New York as the first team to make a splash by picking a goalie.
  • It's a long draft for a small league.
    There are 138 active roster positions in the PWHL. There will be 42 draft selections, on top of 96 pending free agents who were either reserves or signed to one-year contracts for the inaugural season. While the format for next season's reserve rosters hasn't been determined yet, there are already more players in the player pool than there are roster spots to go around. This is a competitive draft class and there are a lot of players who will be competing for roster spots in training camp this fall. Not all of them are going to make it. Some will likely retire or move on to other opportunities, but that still leaves a lot of one-to-one comparisons to make for coaches and GMs as they decide how to construct their rosters for season two.
  • Will there be trade activity?
    Teams now have the ability to conduct transactions with their 2024 picks (though not future picks). If trades take place, the actual draft order may be in flux, even during the actual draft itself. We may hear "We have a trade to announce" on the PWHL draft floor for the first time.
  • Will there be any indication of updated team names and team branding?
    Probably not, but maybe some visual hints – we'll keep an eye out. We've been told that the new team names and branding will be revealed in August.

The PWHL Draft will be held on Monday, June 10, at 6:00 PM Central at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium at the Saint Paul RiverCentre. The PWHL Awards will be held on Tuesday, June 11, at 12:30 PM Central at the InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront Hotel's Great River Ballroom. Both facilities are near Xcel Energy Center, PWHL Minnesota's home rink.

Nicole and I will be covering the draft and awards ceremony in person, and we'll bring you more coverage and analysis when we get there!