Recapping where each PWHL team stands following first signings

Team Canada Sarah Nurse, left, is congratulated by teammates Rebecca Johnston, right, and Marie-Philip Poulin, centre, after she scored against Team USA during first period action. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

The first free agency period of the Professional Women’s Hockey League wrapped up on Sunday, and as teams prepare for the next step of roster building — a 15-round draft on Monday — we’re checking in with each club to recap the moves so far.

Eleven forwards, four defenders and three goaltenders were signed during the initial 10-day free agency period, which saw 10 Canadians and eight Americans agree to three-year deals. (Salaries for these contracts were not made public at the time of signings.)

All 18 players have played prominent roles on their national teams and were part of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. Players currently in college, or those who graduated this year, were not eligible to sign during this initial free agency period — their destinations will be determined via Monday’s inaugural draft.

So, as we count down to draft day, here’s a look at where each team stands now.

TORONTO | GM: Gina Kingsbury

Sarah Nurse, Forward (Hamilton, Ont.)

Blayre Turnbull, Forward (Stellarton, N.S.)

Renata Fast, Defence (Burlington, Ont.)

While all 18 players signed during the PWHL’s initial free agency period were members of the PWHPA and are currently on the Canadian or American national women’s team, these first three signings were perhaps a little more personal Kingsbury. Kingsbury oversaw Team Canada as GM from July 2018 until she was announced as Toronto’s first GM, during which time all three of Nurse, Turnbull and Fast developed into veteran leaders on the squad.

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Nurse and Turnbull are versatile forwards who can suit up anywhere in the lineup and bring a physical edge whether starring on their own line or playing a complementary role.

Fast is one of just four defenders signed during in this initial signing period, and undoubtedly among the very best — it’s a no-brainer to build your blue line around her. She’s hard to play against and brings speed and offensive bursts to the blue line.

OTTAWA | GM: Michael Hirshfeld

Emily Clark, Forward (Saskatoon)

Brianne Jenner, Forward (Oakville, Ont.)

Emerance Maschmeyer, Goaltender (Bruderheim, Alta.)

The club in the nation’s capital was the first franchise to announce its trio of signings, securing three Team Canada veterans to form its foundation. “Gritty” and “dynamic” were the two words Hirshfeld highlighted when ask about the overall identity of the team he wanted to build, and you can see those qualities here. “Versatile,” too, would be a fitting descriptor, especially when it comes to Clark. The 27-year-old went from Team Canada newcomer in 2015 after her rookie season at Wisconsin to one of the most reliable and consistent young veterans on the national squad.

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Jenner, 32, is best known for being the dynamic linemate of Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin, her name appearing annually among the top scorers in international tournaments. Now, she’ll star on a line of her own — and perhaps wear the C in Ottawa?

Maschmeyer, meanwhile, is one of three goalies to be signed during this initial free agency period and while the signing was perhaps a little more surprising than others considering the depth at the position in the upcoming draft, it’s easy to see why she was scooped up so quickly. The Team Canada veteran has taken a secondary role to Ann-Renee Desbiens of late, but now takes on the No. 1 role in Ottawa.

MONTREAL | GM: Danielle Savageau

Marie-Philip Poulin, Forward (Beauceville, Que.)

Laura Stacey, Forward (Mississauga, Ont.)

Ann-Renée Desbiens, Goaltender (La Malbaie, Que.)

Montreal has the final pick of the first round of Monday’s draft, and yet… they still ended up with the top player in the game. Even before the new league announced its original six markets, we all knew Marie-Philip Poulin would be suiting up in Montreal. The Quebec-born captain of Team Canada and GOAT of the women’s game, who’s also been working with the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens in player development, helps usher in a new era in one of the game’s most passionate markets and makes the city that already has such a rich history of winning an instant contender out of the gates.

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Complementing the top-line centre is Laura Stacey, whose versatile game doesn’t always get a lot of time in the spotlight considering how star-studded Team Canada is. At five-foot-10, she’s a power forward that can bring a jolt of energy wherever she suits up and is an asset on special teams, too.

Like Poulin, Desbiens has entered national hero territory thanks to her international performances and game-saving plays on more than one occasion. She’s a true franchise netminder, her knack for stepping up in the game’s biggest moments much like that of her captain.

BOSTON | GM: Danielle Marmer

Hilary Knight, Forward (Sun Valley, Idaho)

Megan Keller, Defence (Farmington, Michigan)

Aerin Frankel, Goaltender (New York)

Of the six GMs, Marmer took the most balanced approach to her initial trio of signings with Boston being the only squad to take one player at each position. Headlined by USA Hockey veteran (and face of the sport stateside) Hilary Knight, all three of Boston’s foundational players have obvious ties to the area. Knight’s pro career began in Boston with the CWHL’s Blades, followed by two seasons as captain of the NWHL’s Pride. The reigning world champ, who wore the captain’s C in place of Kendall Coyne Schofield (maternity leave) at the tournament this past spring, brings instant stardom and leadership to a market that’s got a built-in women’s hockey fanbase.

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Keller and Frankel, too, are familiar faces for an area rich in college hockey powerhouses. Keller was a three-time Patty Kazmaier Award finalist at Boston College, leaving a trail of broken records in her wake, and now brings her smart defensive game back to Boston where she’ll take her rightful place leading the team’s blue line.

Frankel was a revelation while playing at Northeastern, and the same can be said of her performance as the Americans’ starter at the women’s worlds this year. The 2021 Patty Kazmaier Award winner backstopped Team USA to world championship gold and at 24 is undoubtedly the future of the crease both for Boston and the national squad.

NEW YORK | GM: Pascal Daoust

Abby Roque, Forward (Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan)

Alex Carpenter, Forward (Cambridge, Massacheusetts)

Micah Zandee-Hart, Defence (Saanichton, B.C.)

In acquiring his first three players, Daoust secured the present and future of this New York-area team, bringing in a trio whose combined age is lower than any other team’s initial free agency group. Like Boston, New York is nestled in a region surrounded by some of the strongest women’s hockey college programs in the game — that’s something the GM pointed out during his introductory press conference, and it’s something you can see reflected in his signing of Zandee-Hart. The 26-year-old defender is the lone free agent to sign on a squad not in her home country. The young Team Canada defender captained Cornell University during her senior year and now returns to the region for her first taste of the pros.

Carpenter’s career resume is more diverse than most, having played across the globe with the CWHL’s Kunlun Red Star and KRS Vanke Rays. She’s coming off a really strong stint at the women’s worlds, where she tallied nine points in Team USA’s gold-medal effort.

Roque, the youngest of New York’s signees, has the kind of skillset and personality that’s meant to shine on the game’s biggest stage. She’s also no stranger to the bright lights of NYC — she played a starring role when the PWHPA made history at Madison Square Garden, and returns to the area now.

MINNESOTA | GM: Natalie Darwitz

Kendall Coyne Schofield, Forward (Oak Lawn, Illinois)

Kelly Pannek, Forward (Plymouth, Minnesota)

Lee Stecklein, Defence (Roseville, Minnesota)

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While most of the league’s six franchises took at least a little bit of a homegrown approach to recruiting their biggest stars, the local ties are particularly strong in Minneapolis-St. Paul — a team with a healthy population of Golden Gophers already. Darwitz, who herself hails from the area and played for the University of Minnesota, turned to a pair of Minnesota natives from her alma mater in Pannek and Stecklein to build her franchise around, as well as USA Hockey star Kendall Coyne Schofield, who’s from the Chicago area.

Darwitz, who herself served as captain of Team USA during her playing days, has put strong leadership front and centre (and on the blue line) when laying the foundation of her roster.

Coyne Schofield has been one of the key players — both on and off the ice — in the mission of the PWHPA and the formation of the PWHL and was serving as captain of Team USA before taking some time away from the team to have her first child this year.

Both Stecklein and Pannek captained the University of Minnesota during their respective tenures, and considering Minnesota’s got the No. 1 overall draft pick they’ll soon have company — Taylor Heise, yet another Golden Gophers captain, is fresh off an MVP senior season and is expected to be the first player off the board on Monday. You can’t script it much better than that.

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