After signing Rebecca Russo from Boston University the New York Riveters have just two contracted roster spots remaining. After a spending spree on his defense, General Manager Chad Wiseman needs to sign a goalie and a forward with $36,000 in salary cap space.
The Riveters need to commit the majority of their remaining cap space to signing Hannah Brandt.
With six defenders signed and Russo completing the third line the Riveters’ greatest current need is a top line center. Someone needs to play big minutes with Amanda Kessel and (most likely) Bray Ketchum.
Brandt, who was acquired via trade in late April, is the logical choice.
Brandt was Kessel’s center at the University of Minnesota. Signing her means inheriting invaluable chemistry while also addressing the team’s needs. Brandt would bring speed, vision, and elite primary point production to New York.
A top line of Brandt, Ketchum, and Kessel would drive possession and be lethal in the transition game with their speed. It would also give the Riveters something they’ve never had: a dominant scoring line.
Outside of Kessel and Ketchum the Riveters are lacking skill in their forward group. Both Janine Weber and Madison Packer have the ability to improve on their production from last season, but New York still needs another skilled forward.
A big part of New York’s attack will come from their stable full of puck-moving defenders. The investment that Wiseman made in his blue line solidifies his identity as a defense-first coach. The Riveters spent $98,000 on their six defenders. Last season they spent $62,500 on five defenders.
Investing first in blueliners with offensive upside makes plenty of sense if there are forwards to receive breakout passes and attack in transition. Brandt’s skating ability, positioning, and chemistry with Minnesota graduates Kessel and Milica McMillen makes her a perfect fit on the top line.
Wiseman signing Courtney Burke and McMillen away from their draft teams came at the expense of $7,000 in cap space. The Miye D’Oench for Alex Carpenter trade and Trivigno for Brandt trade had draft taxes that canceled each other out.
Signing Jaimie Leonoff for the league minimum of $10,000 more than made up for the draft tax penalties to the Riveters’ salary cap. Signing an elite goaltender for $10,000 was a master stroke. Leonoff’s contract will probably be the biggest steal of the NWHL offseason.
Thanks to that contract, the Riveters should be able to afford their second goaltender and Brandt without spending all of their cap space — good news for a league that needs to their count pennies.
Who that second goaltender will be is currently a mystery.
Kimberly Newell from Princeton should be at the top of Wiseman’s list. Newell’s outstanding senior season made it clear that she has the talent professional women’s hockey. She won gold with Canada’s U-18 team in the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championship.
The Riveters selected her at the top of the fifth round after she posted eye-catching individual stats on a losing team as a junior. If the Canadian-born goaltender can figure out living arrangements and a work visa she should be the team’s second-string goaltender.
Despite her 5’9″ frame Newell is quick in her crease. She has shown she is more than capable of handling a heavy workload and facing high volumes of shots; something that Riveters goaltenders were no strangers to last season.
If Newell isn’t the target there are several NWHL veterans to pursue. Excluding Leonoff, only three goaltenders have signed contracts. There is also a well-stocked college free agent market to take advantage of. Only two goaltenders were taken in the draft this year.
The cap space spent on a deep, talented blue line and Kessel makes Wiseman’s commitment to winning clear. The Riveters are not the same team that won just four games last season.
The 2016-17 Riveters are two contracts and six practice squad players away from a complete roster. There may be only two pieces to the puzzle left, but they are big ones.