As of April 1, the NWHL’s restricted free agency period began, where teams will begin to re-sign their players from their inaugural rosters, as well as their 2015 draft picks. The teams will also need to consider the futures of their practice players – whether they’ve made their way into the lineup, earned a spot to return as a practice player, or they’ll have the chance to test the free-agent market.
Steadman’s name is synonymous with scoring. She was the league’s most prolific scorer, averaging 2.00 points per game. She had more goals than anyone not named Knight or Decker and she did it as a practice player. Playing in only 10 of the team’s 18 regular season games, Steadman certainly made her mark in the league — she was named the NWHL’s Player of the Week twice, and was even nominated for the league’s MVP award.
Did I mention Steadman is a practice player?
Strengths: Beyond scoring, Steadman’s strength is, well, her strength. She is an incredibly gifted puck handler, and much of that has to do with her ability to fight off stick-checks and skate through defenders on her way to the net. Her size is also an advantage for the team, which consists mainly of small, fast, tenacious skaters. Steadman is also killer in the slot — a sniper of the highest order.
Weaknesses: For all of Steadman’s offensive upside, her defensive game lacks the same intense focus that she places on scoring. Often, when the Beauts create a turnover in the defensive zone, Steadman is at the opponent’s blueline, which is great because it forces the opponent to vacate their offensive zone, but if the Beauts turn the puck over before they hit Steadman with the stretch pass, they are at a distinct disadvantage.
Should she be a rostered player?: If there is any practice player on any team who should have a roster spot, Kelley Steadman is that player. If the question is whose spot she’d take, the answer is pretty much anyone but the goalie. On a team that had its issues with scoring, Steadman is a one-woman solution to that problem, and deserves to be a full-time player on the team.
Of the remaining practice players, Cellino has proven herself to be the most useful. She played four games – three of them in the beginning of the season, when Buffalo’s roster was incomplete. In her fourth game, Cellino demonstrated her versatility by playing defense (she is a natural forward.) She also joined the team for their first playoff game in Connecticut.
Strengths: Aside from her ability to play defense when required, Cellino is quick in transitions. Though she played only a handful of games, she had three breakaway chances; unfortunately the opposing netminder was up to the task each time. She is also the only other practice player to gather a point in the season, scoring an assist in the season opener against Boston.
Weaknesses: Cellino frequently seemed to be tentative with the puck. She was often the first one out of the defensive zone in transition, and put herself in good position to receive a breakout pass, but once she received the puck, she seemed unsure what to do next. It is difficult to evaluate her progression throughout the season with so few starts, and most of them taking place at the beginning of the season.
Should she be a rostered player?: Cellino best serves the Beauts in her current role as a practice player. The Buffalo native is accessible at all times, and can fill in wherever the Beauts may need her, but in her opportunities to inject herself in the lineup, she hasn’t shown anything that separates her from any of the rostered players.
Carnes, like Cellino, joined Buffalo on the ice for four games, and one playoff game in Connecticut. She played forward, mainly on the fourth line, though she would occasionally jump up to the third.
Strengths: At 5’7”, Carnes is actually one of the more sizeable forwards for the Beauts, and she used that to her advantage. She was often found on the boards, and handily won a majority of the battles she took part in while there. Though she was not able to net any points, she did well in the defensive zone, suppressing shots from the point and forcing plays to the boards where she was able to dig the puck out.
Weaknesses: Carnes was great at winning battles and would often emerge from the pack with the puck, but once she obtained the puck, it was often turned over again — either an errant pass or a misplayed move would result in puck possession for the opponent.
Should she have a roster spot?: Carnes is a good role player for the team, but she lacks the fine-tuning that she would need in order to break the roster. Her size is something that the team lacks, but she needs to be stronger on the puck once she obtains possession.
Giamo is one of Buffalo’s quicker forwards – the small, speedy players that were the Beauts’ hallmark in their inaugural season, and she fit that mold perfectly. Because of this, Giamo played in one more game in the regular season than Carnes and Cellino.
Strengths: Quick and elusive, Giamo was very good with the puck. Her breakouts were often to the center of the ice, which gave her wingers the opportunity to hit the blueline with speed for the lead pass.
Weaknesses: Giamo was perhaps out of place on the third or fourth line, where she would fill in. She was often ahead of the play, whether or not she had the puck. If she carried the puck, she’d often be the first one into the zone and would have to slow down for the play to catch up; the defense would swarm and she’d often give up the puck.
Should she have a roster spot?: Giamo would be a good fit on Buffalo’s small, quick, tenacious second line, but her abilities do not eclipse those of Kourtney Kunichika, Hailey Browne, and Devon Skeats — in fact, both Skeats and Browne bring a physical aspect that Giamo doesn’t always have. If one of these second line players were lost to free agency, though, Giamo could end up filling that gap.
There are far more questions than answers regarding the rosters this season. At the moment, there has been no indication of whether roster sizes will grow, so if each team signs their five draft picks, there will certainly be a lot of turnover in the coming months.
These practice squad players may find themselves missing the cut or representing other cities – especially if the league expands as they indicated they might. For Carnes, Cellino, and Giamo, who reside in Buffalo, some tough decisions may have to be made in the coming weeks if they want to keep their dreams of professional hockey alive.