Chad Wiseman and the New York Riveters struck out on signing University of Minnesota star Hannah Brandt this offseason. Brandt signed with the Minnesota Whitecaps the day before the NWHL’s free agency ended. With that signing falling through and Brooke Ammerman’s departure, the Riveters are without a first line center.
Amanda Kessel offers the promise of a dramatically improved offense for the Riveters, but with the roster now complete, concerns about the team’s offensive depth remain. New York will need its top line to be something special.
Unless Wiseman chooses to separate them, Kessel and Bray Ketchum make for a great pair of top line wingers. Kessel averaged almost two points per game in college and more than a point per game with the U.S. national team. Her speed and hands make her the Riveters’ first superstar forward.
Ketchum was one of the Riveters’ biggest success stories last season. New York depended on the CWHL veteran to make things happen. She led the team in shots, goals, power play goals, and was tied for the team lead in points. All told, Ketchum scored one-fourth of New York’s goals.
A big part of Ketchum’s success was the playmaking ability of Ammerman and the chemistry they developed. Goal scorers can’t do much if they don’t get the puck. Wiseman needs a center for Ketchum and Kessel that can attack with them in transition and move the puck well.
The best player to fill that role is returning Riveter Janine Weber.
Weber’s biggest drawback is her humble production numbers. Weber has played hockey in the NCAA, EWHL, CWHL, NWHL, and for Austria in international tournaments. She has never put up eye-catching offensive production at any level of play.
What Weber lacks in counting stats, though, she makes up for in the potential her physical abilities and hockey intelligence represent. She has great size and is a very strong skater with great “north-south” speed. Unlike some, she won’t have any trouble keeping up with Ketchum and Kessel.
Weber’s size would help to create space for skilled wingers to work with. The same long reach that makes her an effective forechecker and penalty killer will also help her get pucks to her linemates.
There is little doubt about where the Riveters want the majority of their shots coming from next season. The left-handed Weber would be a natural set-up for the right-handed Kessel.
Weber had three goals and six assists last season but there was evidence that she has a lot more to give. According to Carolyn Wilke’s NWHL tracking, Weber was second only to Ammerman in passes that created shots for New York in all situations. At even strength, she ranked first.
With talented finishers on her wings, Weber’s ability to generate shots with her passing is crucial. That skill alone makes her the best candidate on the roster to fill that hole. She is also one of the few players on the Riveters roster with significant experience playing center.
Before breaking out last year, Ketchum wasn’t a big scorer at Yale or with the Boston Blades. But she flourished when she was put into a top-line role. Weber could soon find herself in a similar position but with even more talent around her.
Last season, Weber stood out as a solid possession player on a terrible possession team. She struggled to score early in the year (like her entire team did) but her value was always evident. She creates scoring chances, she carries the puck with speed through the neutral zone, and she plays responsible defense. She has the physical frame and skill set to be a top line center.
She just needs to be given the opportunity to become one.