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Lessons Learned from Riveters Free Agency

Ashley Johnston gets excited during warm ups. NWHL New York Riveters at Connecticut Whale Feb 28 2016. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

In his first offseason as the New York Riveters general manager, Chad Wiseman made drastic changes to his roster. Wiseman had his work cut out for him — the Riveters were the worst team in the NWHL last season.

Rebuilding the Riveters took almost every minute of the offseason. Wiseman started things off with a bang with the Michelle Picard trade on April 26. He also made the last move of the offseason with the eleventh-hour signing of Tatiana Rafter.

Wiseman, who is also New York’s head coach, went into the offseason believing that the Riveters’ systems weren’t the issue. The result was a huge roster overhaul with just six Riveters from last season’s roster re-signing with the team.

Defense First

Wiseman, a “defense first” coach, wasn’t shy about spending to build the blue line that he wanted. Last season the average salary of a Riveters defender was $12,500, for the 2016-17 season the average salary is $14,333.

Rebuilding the Riveters defense began with re-signing standouts Ashley Johnston and Kiira Dosdall. Wiseman added just one other veteran to his defense — the former backbone of the Whale’s defense, Kaleigh Fratkin.

The other three defenders are all rookies drafted by other NWHL teams. Wiseman acquired Milica McMillen, Courtney Burke, and Picard via trade or by paying a draft tax for signing them. Clearly, Wiseman had targets for players that fit into his system and he went after them.

The addition of Fratkin and the three rookies completely changes the expectations for the Riveters next season. The defense’s physicality remains, but it is now joined by more speed, skill, and puck possession.

While the signing of superstar Amanda Kessel may have grabbed all the headlines, the most important change for the Riveters happened on the blue line.

Skilled Forwards

Speaking of Kessel, the addition of the star winger gives the Riveters their first true superstar forward. Kessel and veteran Bray Ketchum should make for a dangerous tandem on New York’s top line.

Beauts forward Tatiana Rafter, covered by Madison Packer of the Riveters, hustling to join the attack while the Beauts gain the Riveters' zone. Mandatory Photo Credit: Mike Murphy

Beauts forward Tatiana Rafter, covered by Madison Packer of the Riveters, hustling to join the attack while the Beauts gain the Riveters’ zone. Mandatory Photo Credit: Mike Murphy

The return of Madison Packer and Janine Weber from last year’s roster gives the Riveters size and strength. Both forwards are solid penalty killers and can contribute playing in the top six.

Choosing not to re-sign forward Lyudmila Belyakova was a controversial decision. Belyakova had issues with the language barrier and fitting into Wiseman’s system. Her skill shined through questionable deployment with solid production and possession numbers last season.

Wiseman’s greatest misstep of the offseason was missing out on center Hannah Brandt. Acquiring Brandt’s rights came at the cost of a $2,000 draft tax and Dana Trivigno. Wiseman had $22,000 in cap space to work with, but Brandt signed with the Minnesota Whitecaps on July 30.

Offensive Depth

The hidden gem of the Riveters forward group is likely Miye D’Oench.

At 5’4” D’Oench may be small, but her production at Harvard makes her a solid option on a scoring line. She scored 109 points in the 101 games she played after her freshman season with the Crimson.

Another forward that could impress in New York is Rafter. Rafter signed on the last day of free agency for $16,500. Her size, work ethic, and speed make her a good fit for the Riveters. Rafter’s production at the University of British Columbia suggests she has plenty more to give than the three points she scored with Buffalo last season.

New additions Alexa Gruschow and Rebecca Russo are rookies that produced at the college level. Like returning Riveter, Morgan Fritz-Ward, they both play sound hockey away from the puck. Consequently, the Riveters should have a more balanced and impactful third line in 2016-17.

The Women in Masks

Replacing Nana Fujimoto and Jenny Scrivens was one of Wiseman’s biggest challenges. It was impossible to replace the value they brought to the team off-ice, but finding replacements on-ice was another matter.

It will be hard to find a more team-friendly contract than Jaimie Leonoff’s. Leonoff was stolen away from the Whale in free agency with a league minimum $10,000 contract. She is projected to be the starter for the Riveters given her success last season in Connecticut.

The Riveters other goaltender is rookie Sojung Shin who signed for $13,500. Shin plays internationally with South Korea and played three seasons for St. Francis Xavier University in the CIS. Last season at Xavier, Shin posted solid individual numbers despite a 3-10 record.

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