‘So many good players’: PWHL’s Turnbull, Jenner excited to see how draft plays out

PWHL board member Stan Kasten and hockey operations senior vice president Jayna Hefford discuss the 'original six' markets in the PWHL and why they were selected as locations.

Blayre Turnbull isn’t about to cite any examples, and she’s not naming names, but the long-time Team Canada forward can’t help but notice a trend ahead of the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) draft. 

“There’s a ton of rumours on Twitter that are just false,” says the 30-year-old, who probably means ‘X’, not Twitter, and who isn’t in the draft class herself, since she’s already signed to Toronto. Turnbull was selected as a free agent ahead of the draft, since franchises were given the opportunity to sign three star players each. 

“I can’t even go on Twitter (‘X’!) to be honest with you,” Turnbull says, with a laugh. “I mean, I still do, but every time it’s like: ‘Oh my gosh.’ It’s unbelievable, the stuff I’ve been reading.” 

By the stuff she’s been reading, the Olympic gold medallist and two-time world champion means the bold declarations out there about so-and-so headed to this team, and so-and-so headed to that team, when just about nobody knows for certain who’s headed anywhere quite yet. 

All that uncertainty will vanish on Monday, Sept. 18 when the PWHL’s 15-round draft gets underway at 1 p.m. ET at CBC’s downtown Toronto headquarters. Ninety players will be selected to franchises in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Minnesota, Boston and New York ahead of the league’s inaugural season, which kicks off in January. 

“There’s so many good players in this draft — it’s really unique, it’s not just players coming out of college in one or two ages, it’s everybody,” says Brianne Jenner, MVP at the last Olympics, and already selected by Ottawa, where she’s a solid bet to don the ‘C’. “Right up to the last rounds there’s going to be really good hockey players available. It’s crazy.” 

Turnbull and Jenner will both be in attendance Monday, and they took time to offer scouting reports on some of the talent in the draft pool, which features 268 players representing 14 countries. 

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The name generating the most first-overall buzz is American Taylor Heise, who last year took home the world championship MVP and the Patty Kazmaier as the NCAA’s top player. “A pure goal-scorer,” Jenner says, “She’ll probably go pretty early.” 

And by pretty early, Turnbull aligns with the rumour mill on this one: She figures Heise will go first overall to Minnesota, winners of the draft lottery and that coveted top pick. 

“She’s a University of Minnesota graduate, a Minnesota girl, I think they’ll take her for sure,” Turnbull says. “She’s very, very skilled and she’s someone that works really hard, too. Obviously she’s really young, she just graduated from university, so she has a really bright future ahead of her. She’s already a great player on the international stage, and she’ll be a great player in this league.” 

One draftee who’s among the biggest names on the board and well known to Turnbull and Jenner is Natalie Spooner, a fellow veteran Canadian national team player and winner of two Olympic gold medals and two world championships. 

“She’s done so much in her hockey career to solidify herself as one of the top forwards in the world — she’s a goal-scorer, she likes to go hard to the net, and she always finds a way to put the puck in the back of the net,” Turnbull says. “She’s someone any team would be lucky to have.”

Jenner echoes all that and adds: “She’s a ball of sunshine.” 

That ball of sunshine is from Scarborough, Ont. The two Ontario-based teams, Toronto and Ottawa, hold the No. 2 and No. 5 picks, respectively. 

Hailing from Brampton, Ont., is 25-year-old Mikyla Grant-Mentis, who won MVP in the now-defunct Professional Hockey Federation in 2021, and last season reportedly signed an $80,000 (USD) deal to play for the (also now-defunct) Buffalo Beauts. 

“She’s fast, she’s physical, she’s gritty, and she’s super skilled,” says Turnbull, who played with Grant-Mentis at a national team training camp last year. “I think her game will do really well in the PWHL.” 

Another forward earning well-deserved pre-draft buzz is Switzerland’s Alina Müller. The 25-year-old was the youngest-ever hockey player to win an Olympic medal when she scored the game-winner in the bronze medal game at age 15, and she’s been a leader on the ice for her country ever since.  

“She’s one of the best forwards in the world,” Turnbull says. “She’s fast, she plays a really strong game with the puck, and she’s feisty too. She competes really hard.” 

“She’s a potent play-maker,” Jenner adds. “I think she’ll be a pretty high pick.” 

A few goaltenders might also be pretty high picks on Monday. With their free agent selections, three teams signed goalies: Montreal got Team Canada’s No. 1 Ann-Renée Desbiens, Boston signed Team USA’s Aerin Frankel and Ottawa picked up Team Canada’s Emerance Maschmeyer. 

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Toronto, New York and Minnesota are all without a goalie, and there are some big names on the board to help fill that void. One is Sweden’s Emma Söderberg, the 25-year-old who was named to the 2023 world championship all-star team, and was a major reason her team forced overtime against Canada in the quarterfinal. “I think she’s a rising star,” Jenner says. 

“She is a very athletic goalie,” Turnbull adds. “She’s not the biggest, but she’s super, super quick. I could see her being a high pick in the draft.” 

Asked who they least want to play against and go toe-to-toe with in games, Jenner and Turnbull agree: It’s defender, Jocelyne Larocque. 

“If you’re in a puck battle with her, most of the time, she’s winning the battle,” Turnbull says of her long-time Team Canada teammate. “She’s fast, she’s strong, she plays a super tough game. To me that’s a no-brainer, to have her picked super high in the draft to solidify your blueline.” 

“Best defensive defenceman in the world,” Jenner adds. 

“I really wouldn’t mind having her on my team,” Turnbull says, laughing. “She’s really tough.” 

As of now, Turnbull knows the identity of just two of her teammates in Toronto: fellow national team stars, defender Renata Fast and forward Sarah Nurse, who also signed prior to the draft. 

“I’m quite impatient, so the wait has been a bit difficult for me,” Turnbull says. “I know the girls who are waiting to get drafted feel more impatient than me. I feel for them because everyone’s so eager to find out where they’re going to move to, where they’re playing, and I’m super excited to find out who gets drafted to Toronto and will fill out the rest of our team.” 

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Team Canada held a training camp with about 50 players this week, and there was a lot of chatter about the draft. Since players don’t have much control over what team picks them, a lot of the talk was around something they can control. 

“Draft day fashion is a big topic,” says Jenner, who points out she’s “not a fashion person” and describes her draft day outfit as “a suit, but not quite.” 

Turnbull will be sporting a new suit, “neutral tones, nothing flashy,” she says. Turnbull figures Team Canada forward Emma Maltais, who made her Olympic debut last year, will be the flashiest dresser on the purple carpet. (The carpet won’t be Hollywood red, it’ll be PWHL purple). 

“Oh yeah, I’ve seen what she wears to games,” Turnbull says of Maltais, laughing. “She likes the bright colours, different accessories. And they work really well for her — I’m super excited to see what she wears, actually.” 

Team Canada’s clutch captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who’s (obviously) been signed already to Montreal, has been known to sport fashionable hats, but Jenner isn’t going to offer a guess as to whether Poulin will be wearing one on draft day. 

“Even if I knew, I wouldn’t put that out there, because maybe people will be betting on that,” Jenner says. That’s a good point. 

Turnbull thinks about Poulin’s outfit for a second and decides: “I think she’ll wear a hat.” 

On Monday, we’ll find out who’s wearing what and who’s headed where. Until then, it’s all rumours.

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