May 1 was the first day of free agency for the NWHL and almost immediately, two deals came through which very much surprised New York Riveters and Connecticut Whale fans.
The league announced Sunday that Kaleigh Fratkin and Jaimie Leonoff signed contracts with the New York Riveters for the 2016-17 season. Fratkin and the Riveters agreed to terms on a one-year, $19,500 contract while Leonoff and the New York club agreed to terms on a one-year, $10,000 contract.
“I decided to sign with the Riveters because they offered me an opportunity that I thought would be the best fit for me,” said Fratkin. “I am beyond excited to be a part of the Riveters organization and look forward to chasing the Isobel Cup.”
Fratkin played in 18 regular season games for the Whale last season, scoring 17 points (5G, 12A) and leading all league defensemen in scoring. For the first half of the season Fratkin actually led the Whale in points, slipping only to fourth overall, just behind playmakers like Kelly Babstock and scorers like Kelli Stack and Shiann Darkangelo.
With New York lacking a true puck-moving defenseman last season, the Riveters found it very difficult to generate goals from the back end, even though their defenders routinely pelted the net with shots while on the cycle.
In fact, only two goals were scored by defenders: one a slapshot by Ashley Johnston in the first few games of the season, another a wraparound by Gabie Figueroa. Johnston has re-signed with the club; as of this writing, Figueroa has not.
Adding Connecticut Whale draft pick Michelle Picard (who New York traded for just this past week) and Fratkin to Johnston and Dosdall pumps up New York’s blue line goal-scoring potential while retaining two important shut-down players.
The other coup for the Riveters Sunday is the addition of Jaime Leonoff in goal. Not only is Leonoff a strong goaltender who posted a 0.936 save percentage (the best in the league), 2.96 goals against average, and 7-3-0 record, she agreed to play for New York for only $10,000. That rings in at half the cost of Nana Fujimoto, the Riveter’s starting goaltender in their inaugural season.
Leonoff brings the additional benefit of being familiar with NHL-sized rinks, thus resulting in less re-training of angles and rebounds, and perhaps even fewer injuries.
The Riveters could certainly use a stable, injury-free presence in net; Leonoff will provide that for them.
“I’m really happy to be a part of the Riveters organization,” said Leonoff in the NWHL press release. “I have heard amazing things about the staff and the coaches, and I am looking forward to competing with a top team this season.”
It should be no surprise that Leonoff is focused on the New York staff; goaltending coach Jon de Castro was a big draw for goaltenders to play in New York last season. Leonoff has demonstrated through her constant work to better her play throughout the year and offseason that she has lofty goals, perhaps even Canadian National Team goals, for herself.
De Castro, a student of Washington Capitals goalie coach Mitch Korn, volunteered his services for the league in its inaugural season and elevated Nana Fujimoto’s play throughout the season. Unfortunately her year was marred by various injuries, many of them due to her unfamiliarity with North American play. Should de Castro plan to return for the second season Leonoff would almost certainly see that as a bonus.
While the figure she signed for is quite low, $10,000 being the league minimum for a salary, Leonoff is the daughter of NWHL investor, Joel Leonoff. Taking $10,000 for the season may be her way of contributing to the league and ensuring that there is enough money to go around to bring better players to the league, like Riveters’ new star forward, Amanda Kessel.