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NWHL

The Changing Faces of the Riveters’ Blue Line

Ashley Johnston heads for the puck in the corner. NWHL New York Riveters at Connecticut Whale Feb 28 2016. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

Given the lack of star power on the Riveters’ blue line last season, there were many who considered New York’s defense the worst in the NWHL. Allowing a league-worst 4.22 goals per game at the end of the 18 game regular season didn’t do much to change that reputation.

In addition to the headline-grabbing signings that are bound to improve the Riveters’ offense, first year general manager Chad Wiseman has also taken some drastic measures to improve the Riveters’ defense this offseason.

Wiseman started rebuilding his defense by bringing back the team’s two best defenders from the inaugural season; captain Ashley Johnston and Kiira Dosdall.

The two bright spots from last year’s blue line both signed $13,500 to return to the Riveters for the 2016-17 season. Both Johnston and Dosdall showed noteworthy offensive upside, but given how frequently the Riveters were pinned in their own zone, their real value to the team was how they played without the puck.

The other two defenders that Wiseman has signed are former Connecticut Whale star Kaleigh Fratkin and Beauts’ first round draft pick Courtney Burke. In addition to both being new faces on the Riveters’ blue line, Fratkin and Burke both also bring puck movement and skill to New York.

Kaleigh Fratkin takes a shot on net while Beth Hanrahan defends against her at NWHL New York Riveters at Connecticut Whale - Ingalls Rink. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

Kaleigh Fratkin takes a shot on net while Beth Hanrahan defends against her at NWHL New York Riveters at Connecticut Whale – Ingalls Rink. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

The Riveters’ struggles with possession haunted their inaugural season. Adding Fratkin and Burke is a big step in the right direction. Both newcomers to the blue line are capable of making that all-important first pass out of the defensive zone that seemed to be missing from New York’s repertoire in 2015-16.

With Dosdall, Johnston, Fratkin, and Burke all inked there’s no doubt that the Riveters have the league’s most-improved defense. Depending on what moves Wiseman makes in the coming months, there’s also a chance that New York could have the best defense in the NWHL.

As things currently stand, the Riveters have $68,500 of cap space (including the $5,000 they forfeited to Connecticut when they signed Burke) tied up in just four defenders. Last season the Riveters’ previous general manager, Dani Rylan, invested $52,500 of cap space in New York’s five contracted defenders.

With just seven contracts spots remaining the Riveters have yet to sign the second and third defenders drafted in the 2015 NWHL Draft. Erin Ambrose and Michelle Picard are both exceptional young defenders that can move the puck.  Even with the surprise signing of Burke, not signing Ambrose and/or Picard would be quite a disappointment.

Wiseman dealt New York draft pick Haley Skarupa to the Whale for Picard’s rights in the first trade of the offseason. If he is unable to sign her to his revamped blue line, it would be the first serious gaffe in an offseason that has thus far been an unmitigated success.

Of course if both Picard and Ambrose sign it will leave no room for Gabie Figueroa, Sydney Kidd, Elena Orlando, or Amber Moore.

Figueroa, who had a $10,000 contract in 2015-16, was Dosdall’s defensive partner for most of the season and was also one of the team’s most popular players. Of all the as-of-yet unsigned defenders from last year’s roster she is the most likely to return given her familiarity with Dosdall and her potential.

With just five forwards and one goaltender under contract, Wiseman will be hard-pressed to find roster spots for two more contracted defenders on the 2016-17 Riveters.

New York currently has two lefty and two righty defenders signed. Picard and Figueroa are both left-handed and Ambrose is right-handed, which may also factor into Wiseman’s decision. With limited cap space and roster spots to work with Wiseman will be looking to turn what is already a good defense into a great one and, perhaps, the best in the league.

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