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Who will be last piece to Riveters’ blue line puzzle?

Ashley Johnston at NWHL Connecticut Whale at New York Riveters Dec. 2015. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini
Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

With Kaleigh Fratkin, Courtney Burke, Ashley Johnston, and Kiira Dosdall signed, the New York Riveters have just one spot left for a defender on their 2016-17 roster. General manager Chad Wiseman has already spent $6,000 more of cap space on the four defenders currently under contract than former general manager Dani Rylan did on the five defenders the Riveters had for the 2015-16 season.

With $63,500 already spent on the blue line one of the most intriguing questions facing the Riveters is: which woman will be the last to join New York’s revamped blue line?

In all likelihood, Wiseman will be signing just one more defender because of the short bench that all NWHL teams have. Will the last spot be filled with another new face, making Johnston and Dosdall the only returning blueliners from last season? Or will Wiseman turn to a more familiar face to save cap space for the remaining five forward spots on the team?

What makes this even more interesting is the fact that the Riveters traded 2015 draft pick Haley Skarupa (fifth overall) to the Connecticut Whale for the rights to Harvard’s Michelle Picard (sixth overall). There is a chance that the Burke signing, which cost New York a total of $22,000 in cap space, closed the book on adding Picard or Riveters’ draft pick Erin Ambrose to the roster.

Even if the salary cap prohibits it, it would still be surprising if the Riveters were unable to sign Picard. The Massachusetts-born defender was the second defender taken in last year’s draft and was acquired by New York when they traded away the rights to the highly-touted Skarupa. Pilfering Burke from the Beauts this offseason at the cost of a $5,000 cap penalty would help take the sting away if Picard can’t be signed.

If Picard or Ambrose can be had for a reasonable cap hit, they must be the first options for the last defender on New York. Both rookies are capable of playing big minutes and are trustworthy with and without the puck. At the college level, they both showed themselves to be outstanding puck movers and capable of playing the point on the power play. With Fratkin and Burke signed there is no great need for a power play quarterback, but there is no such thing as having too much talent and/or puck-movement on a blue line.

It was because of this need for puck movement that signing Ambrose was considered to be a priority for Wiseman and the Riveters this offseason. Being Canadian-born and having to compete for power play ice time in New York might make the CWHL a more attractive option for Ambrose, but she should still be a target if she’s less expensive than Picard.

If Gabie Figueroa, Sydney Kidd, and Elena Orlando aren’t approached with contracts, any of them would be solid options as practice players next season. Having any of them as the fifth defender might be a disappointment because it would mean Picard and Ambrose aren’t in New York, but their familiarity with both Dosdall and Johnston does have value.

With most of the blue line figured out, the Riveters will almost certainly be making a flurry of forward signings in the coming weeks and looking to add their second goaltender. The amount of cap space that remains after a few more forwards are signed will be the key factor in whether the Riveters choose to sign Picard, Ambrose, another free agent, or one of the three unsigned defenders from the inaugural season’s roster.

Last season the Riveters’ blue line and its lack of depth was tested constantly. Wiseman has already done remarkably well shaking things up in New York, but will still likely face some criticism if he is unable to sign Picard. But nothing matters more than having the best 17 players under contract before the first game of the season, especially for the Riveters who worked so hard for so little success last season.

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