Now that the inaugural NWHL season is winding down, fans are turning their eyes to the future. Next season, the first group of Connecticut’s draft picks are expected to join their teams, which leads fans to ask: which of the Whale’s draft picks are more stud than dud? We’re here to explore that very question today, focusing specifically on where each draft pick would bolster Connecticut’s flagging roster.
Thus far the league has not responded to multiple emails asking for clarification on whether or not the NWHL holds drafted players’ player rights. As such, it seems likely the NWHL does not, given NCAA guidelines, making the draft more of a bid for celebrity than ceremony. Regardless, drafting shows which free agents certain teams are likely to go after and what the plan for future builds are.
2 overall | Hannah Brandt | Forward | University of Minnesota
The Whale’s first draft pick of the 2015 inaugural Junior Draft was Hannah Brandt, a forward out of the University of Minnesota. Brandt is most of the way through her senior season and has been co-captaining the Golden Gophers with Lee Stecklein.
Since the start of the season Brandt has been named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Preseason Player of the Year as well as earning WCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors after recording eight points (3G, 5A) in sweep at Ohio State in October. According to the WCHA, Brandt’s five goals, which included one power-play strike and a natural hat trick, matched Nadine Muzerall’s 15-year-old program record and tied for the second-highest single-game total in the conference’s history.
Brandt, who plays well in the center role, will provide Connecticut with more depth down the middle should she choose to sign with the NWHL. Brandt has been chosen to center Amanda Kessel on the Gophers. If readers were unsure of Brandt’s quality of play before now, it should be abundantly clear from the trust her coaches place in her that she is more than good enough to keep up with players of Kessel’s caliber and even improve their game, which bodes well for Connecticut.
The abundance of Golden Gophers on the Whale raises the possibility of Kessel signing with the Whale as a free agent alongside so many her fellow seniors. After all, who wouldn’t want to ease the transition a little?
6 overall | Michelle Picard | Defense | Harvard University
Picard, an offensive defenseman in the vein of Gigi Marvin, has scored two goals and notched 15 assists over 35 games with Harvard in the 2015-16 season, earning a points-per-game average of 0.37, down from her sophomore and junior years. Picard is plus-33 overall this season, and plus-22 within her conference. While an inexact statistic, plus-minus can provide a good overall picture of players’ ability on the ice.
Picard’s aggressive positioning is a large part of her game at Harvard. Should she sign with Connecticut the team will look to her to provide points from the back end as well as level up their transition game.
10 overall | Milica McMillen | Defense | University of Minnesota
McMillen, another defensive prospect for the Whale, is on an offensive tear this season. She scored the Gophers’ first goal of the season with a game-winning power play goal in a season opening 2-0 win at Penn State and immediately posted a four-point game (1 goal, 3 assists) against St. Cloud State. McMillen has scored three game-winning goals this season and assisted on three more; she posted a total of nine goals and 18 assists over 31 games, bringing her within spitting distance of a being a point-per-game player.
McMillen has increased her shooting percentage every year at Minnesota and currently sits at 8.7 percent. If the Whale general manager can sign McMillen to Connecticut’s blue line, opponents are in for a world of hurt.
14 overall | Maryanne Menefee | Forward | University of Minnesota
Menefee could be the biggest bust for the Whale.
Gophers head coach Brad Frost announced in January that Maryanne Menefee, a leading returning scorer for Minnesota, is no longer on the team. Menefee notched 47 points last season and was named to the NCAA all-tournament team.
“Maryanne hadn’t played for us in the first half [this season],” Frost told the StarTribune. “And over break we’ve come to a mutual understanding and decision between her and us as a staff that she’d no longer be on team as she focuses on some other things.”
While Menefee’s departure could be due to anything from academic concerns to personal matters, the real question is how the NWHL will decide to compensate the Whale for its lost draft pick if Menefee does not return to hockey in the upcoming season. While the league could award Connecticut an extra draft pick come the second annual Junior Draft, it is likely they will let the loss stand and leave Connecticut to fill Menefee’s space on the team with a free agent.
18 overall | Cassandra Poudrier | Defense | Cornell University
Poudrier, yet another defender draft pick by Connecticut, would come to the Whale from Big Red. In her first three years at Cornell, Poudrier was named to the ECAC All-Tournament team in 2015, earned 3rd team All-ECAC Hockey and Ivy League honorable mention in 2014 as well as the ECAC Hockey All-Rookie team in 2013. She has 13 points (4G, 9A) over 27 games and a shooting percentage of 69 percent.
Poudrier was named to Team Canada in December of 2015 and will play for Canada’s National Women’s Development Team at the 2016 Nations Cup in Füssen, Germany. She was named an alternate captain alongside CWHL Toronto Furies player, Kelly Terry.
She, too, will be a puck-moving defender the Whale could benefit from, who would start the rush from the back end or finish the play with a well-timed pinch.