Free agency may have just kicked into gear for the NHL but the NWHL’s free agency period has been in full swing since May and the signings are ramping up. Over the course of these articles we’ll take a look at the players each team has signed and examine how they can fit into the current rosters.
While we will not have information on their financial cost to the teams until free agency ends in August, we can begin to build lines and pairings in advance of the entire roster being set. In this installment, we take a look at Brianne McLaughlin, newly signed to the Buffalo Beauts, Kaleigh Fratkin of the Connecticut Whale and discuss how they will shape their new team’s on-ice game, as well as potential pairings.
Brianne McLaughlin, a two-time Olympic medalist, signed with the Buffalo Beauts, GM Linda Mroz announced on July 1. McLaughlin is only the second goaltender signed in the league. The first was Quinnipiac University alumna Chelsea Laden, who signed with the Connecticut Whale a week earlier.
McLaughlin will doubtless be the Beauts starting goaltender. Her background speaks for itself; she set an NCAA record of 3,809 career saves over her collegiate career at Robert Morris University, and was selected to the All-CHA First Team her senior season. After graduating in 2009, McLaughlin continued to play between the posts for USA Hockey, winning two Olympic silver medals: one in 2010 and another in 2014.
She’s one of the top woman netminders in the U.S., as evidenced by her Olympic appearances, multiple IIHF Women’s World Championship tournaments, and one of three U.S. goaltenders during the 2014 Four Nations Cup.
McLaughlin is a conservative goaltender who often favors her glove hand. She doesn’t travel much outside the paint, preferring instead to use a quick kick out to deflect the puck and keep the play moving.
With McLaughlin as the last line of defense, Buffalo will be very difficult to score against, meaning Boston and New York will need to bring some power forwards to sign on with them sooner rather than later.
McLaughlin’s signing continues a tradition of great goaltenders in Buffalo, according to Mroz.
“Buffalo has a tradition of strong goalies between the pipes. Hasek and Miller put the Sabres on the radar in the NHL and now I think McLaughlin will continue such a tradition of great net-minders for the Beauts and the NWHL,” Mroz said in an NWHL release.
The Connecticut Whale signed the league’s first Canadian player on July 1 in Kaleigh Fratkin. Fratkin comes to the Whale from Boston University where she served as the assistant captain on the Terriers.
The Whale has taken the position of building up the blue line first and foremost in the Draft, adding yet another defender to their total. The Whale drafted three defenders with five picks in the NWHL’s inaugural Draft; those defenders won’t be able to join them until they have completed their undergraduate degrees.
However, Fratkin has the honor of being the first free agent defender signed to the Connecticut Whale.
Fratkin is strong on positioning, almost always able to keep it in the offensive zone from the blue line. She isn’t the fastest on the ice but sees the game so well that she rarely gets beaten by a rush to her net, predicting her opponents’ moves before they give it away.
You can watch highlights of a game from her senior year below; Fratkin is no. 13 in red and white. That year, Fratkin earned a New England Division I All-Star nod and was named a Hockey East First-Team All-Star. She finished her BU ice hockey career with 66 points over 151 games. The vast majority of her points come from assists (57), demonstrating her aptitude for seeing the game as a whole, even if she’s not what one might term an offensive defenseman.
Fratkin’s hockey sense is evidenced in her play and in the hardware that comes with her to Connecticut. She won silver in 2009 at the U18 Women’s World Championships and most recently, won the 2015 Nations Cup championship. Fratkin scored a goal for Canada over Finland in the tournament opener.
She joins three other players in Connecticut. She will man the blue line behind forwards Shiann Darkangelo and Sam Faber, and will be backed up by goaltender Chelsea Laden. Though the Whale don’t have a full lineup as of yet, Fratkin’s experience and quick mind will likely see her as a top-two pairing.