Chad Wiseman’s splashy signings of Amanda Kessel and Kaleigh Fratkin headlined the New York Riveters’ rebuild this summer. But Kessel wasn’t the only Olympian that joined the Riveters this offseason. The signing of defender Michelle Picard, who won silver with the United States in Sochi, has somehow managed to fly under the radar.
In addition to her Olympic silver medal, Picard also won gold with the United States national team at the 2013, 2015 and 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championships. The 23-year-old has become a fixture on the U.S. national team because of her play in her own zone.
Picard is not a flashy defender with the elite puck skills you might associate with a power play quarterback. She is still absolutely trustworthy with the puck in all three zones, though. Picard plays smart, consistent hockey in the defensive zone. For the last four years, she has been one of the nation’s best shutdown blueliners playing with the Harvard Crimson.
Harvard’s 2015-16 team, co-captained by Picard, failed to generate offense like it had in previous years. As a result, the Crimson won 10 fewer games than they did in 2014-15. Picard’s offensive numbers dropped with the rest of her team, but she still shined in her own zone. As a senior Picard was named to the All-Ivy League first team and was a finalist for the ECAC defenseman of the year.
“[Michelle] is consistent, steady, relentless. [Her] preparation is awesome,” Harvard and national team coach Katey Stone commented before the 2014 Olympics. “I don’t mean this in a bad way, I mean this as a tremendous compliment, she’s a ho-hum player. She comes to work every day and you get the same thing out of her every day. And that’s why she’s so good.”
Wiseman paid a steep price to acquire Picard’s rights from the Connecticut Whale in late April. He dealt the rights to Haley Skarupa, a forward earmarked to play in the 2018 games, for Harvard’s keystone defender. Picard signed for $17,500, making her the second-highest-paid defender on New York’s revamped blue line.
Wiseman brought on Fratkin and Wisconsin’s Courtney Burke to help spark his team’s offense and power play. He signed Picard to help smother the offense of the opposition and bring more stability to his blue line. And that is just what she is going to do.
She might not pose the same kind of threat that Fratkin, Burke and Milica McMillen do when they have the puck, but when she is on the ice good things happen for her team. You win hockey games at even strength and that is where Picard shines. She finished her four-year NCAA career with the Crimson with an impressive plus-103 rating. Picard is also an outstanding penalty killer. Her superb positioning and work ethic makes her excellent at taking away passing lanes.
“The success Michelle has had as a player speaks for itself,” said Wiseman in an NWHL press release. “Her attitude, commitment, and respect she has earned from every other coach and player she has worked with is what makes her a perfect fit for our organization.”
It can be difficult to appreciate what a defender like Picard brings to the table. Her name won’t be in the box score as frequently as Fratkin’s and the spotlight will only truly be on her when she makes mistakes. What’s important to remember is just how infrequently Picard makes mistakes and how often she puts out fires.
Picard, one of the Riveters’ four left-handed defenders, would be a natural fit on the top pair with the right-handed Fratkin. Regardless of who she is paired with Picard promises to bring consistent play to the Riveters’ blue line. Picard isn’t a physically imposing defender or a dangerous weapon the power play like some of her new teammates. But she is going to play a big role in getting pucks out of New York’s zone and keeping the opposition off the scoreboard.