Last season, the New York Riveters scored an underwhelming 40 goals in 18 regular season games. Ten times last season the Riveters scored just one goal or were shutout by the opposition. The 27 goals that New York scored at even strength was the lowest total in the league and was less than half of the 56 goals that the Isobel Cup Champion Boston Pride scored during 5-on-5 play.
A cursory look at Carolyn Wilke’s NWHL possession data shows that New York wasn’t just cursed by the PDO gods and goddesses. They weren’t simply unlucky. The 2015-16 Riveters didn’t score enough goals or possess the puck enough to win hockey games.
The overhaul to the roster this offseason shows a clear shift in philosophy. It is because of this shift that the Riveters are going to look dramatically different in the league’s second season.
There was no shortage of heart and dedication on the 2015-16 roster. The Riveters had a plucky group of skaters that blocked shots, killed penalties, and played hard. But outside of Brooke Ammerman, the poorly utilized Lyudmila Belyakova, and breakout star Bray Ketchum, there wasn’t much offense to be found in the lineup.
New general manager Chad Wiseman has prioritized speed and skill with his forward signings and has gone out of his way to bring two-way defenders that excel at puck-movement to New York. No longer will the Riveters be a team with an overemphasis on work ethic and a deficit of speed and puck skills.
The 2016-17 Riveters are being built to be a team that keeps the opposition on their heels.
Amanda Kessel, Janine Weber, and Ketchum are all forwards gifted with great speed. Last season, many of the Riveters’ best chances resulted from counter-punch rushes that came about after finally escaping sustained offensive zone pressure by the other team. Unsurprisingly, coming off of the ropes after enduring dominant puck possession by the other team proved to be a poor recipe for success.
Adding puck movers like Courtney Burke and Kaleigh Fratkin to the blue line and an offensive superstar like Kessel to the mix will result in greater success in escaping the defensive zone and getting through the neutral zone. On paper, this should mean better possession numbers for New York and more pressure put on opposing goaltenders and defenses.
Retaining key forwards like Ketchum, Weber, Morgan Fritz-Ward, and Madison Packer will ensure that the Riveters have some depth. Still, those four players had just nine even-strength goals between them last season. If Wiseman wants a balanced attack that isn’t overly dependent on Kessel’s individual production, he needs to sign as many skilled players as possible with the remaining five roster spots available for skaters.
The question of who will center the Kessel line still stands. No Riveter took more faceoffs last season than Weber. Her ability to create space and open the ice with her skating makes her the leading candidate for the team’s top-line center. Still, there is no better option available than signing Hannah Brandt, Kessel’s linemate from the Golden Gophers. The cap space situation will get tricky if and when Brandt signs, but her chemistry with Kessel would give New York a deadly top line.
The Riveters need to have two true scoring lines and adding another talented forward like Brandt is the best way to achieve that.
The big signings that have defined the Riveters’ offseason thus far are a significant step in the right direction after all of the team’s struggles last season. Turning around the worst offense in one offseason is no small task, but Wiseman has been aggressive and dedicated to addressing the team’s greatest needs.
The cap space that Wiseman saved with the Weber and Jaime Leonoff signings should not go toward finding the team’s second goaltender and last defender. It should be spent doubling down on the team’s new direction of speed, skill, and possession.
No NWHL team needed a new direction the way that the Riveters did this offseason. Even with the additions of Kessel, Leonoff, Burke, and Fratkin, the job of rebuilding the Riveters is far from complete.