The NWHL Draft is one unlike any other. Taking place in the middle of the regular season, it gives current NCAA players a chance to sign with the team that drafted them if their school season ends before the NWHL season does.
The 2018 Draft took place on Dec. 19 and 20, 2018, which is right in the middle of the regular season for the first time. The order of picks was determined by the regular season standings at the time, so the last place Riveters took solace in having the first pick in every round.
Overall, there were five rounds with five players selected per round. As the Riveters had a tough season, to say the least, here is what to look forward to from potential newcomers to the team next season.
The first overall pick is expectedly Annie Pankowski, a forward out of Wisconsin who led her team to the WCHA championship over Minnesota and ultimately to a Frozen Four championship. On top of that, she tallied 7 points in the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championships in April, taking home her third gold medal. She was also a finalist for the Patty Kaz award this year and is easily one of the most recognizable and talented names in college hockey right now.
Now here’s the bad news: Pankowski has already announced she plans to attend vet school in Wisconsin following her graduation. This would allow her to remain in Madison to train with Team USA but makes it impossible for her to play with the Riveters and probably the NWHL at all. We could see her sign with the Minnesota Whitecaps as that is the closest team to her, but even those chances are slim and require a heavy commute. On top of that, Pankowski is one of about 200 women’s hockey players at either the NCAA or pro level to take part in a North American league boycott earlier this month.
Needless to say, one draft pick burned.
The Riveters first pick in the second round went to forward Kendall Cornine out of RIT. After a move to Division 1 in 2012, RIT has developed a great women’s hockey program and sent nine players to either the CWHL or NWHL, including
In the third round, the Riveters took another forward and the only Division 3 athlete in Courtney Wittig out of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. It’s an interesting choice, but maybe they know something we don’t in terms of geographical availability for players to play. Wittig had 41 points her senior season, which is a college career-high for her. She led her team in goals and points while being a comfortable distance ahead of the players in second place. She’s a sniper, and if she can keep up with the large jump in pace of play to the NWHL, she should be a great goal scoring asset to a team that has had trouble connecting with the net lately. Wittig is not a player who claimed she would take part in the #ForTheGame movement, so I would expect a definite signing from her.
In the fourth round, the Riveters took Paige Voight out of Merrimack College. Voight also played for the USA women’s U18 team in the World Junior Classic prior to her college playing, though, she did not tally any points there. In high school, she was named an all-conference honorable mention after a 29-point season as a sophomore before recording 47 points as a junior and earning all-state and all-conference honors. After an impressive high school senior year as well, leading the league in goals, she was runner-up for the Minnesota Ms. Hockey award. As a freshman at Merrimack, Voight led the team in scoring and total points and was eighth in the country among freshmen.
Most recently as a senior, Voight averaged half a point per game and proved to be a great two-way player, excelling at both shots on net and blocked shots. There’s not much else to say about Voight besides being a very solid middle-of-the-pack player which, as I said about Wittig as well, can be a great asset to a rebuilding team in the case of possible retirements this offseason.
Finally, the Riveters rounded out the draft with Cailey Hutchison out of the University of Maine. Hutchison previously played with current Riveters’ rookie Audra Richards, who had a great NWHL season and was selected to attend the All-Star game. Hutchison is the first of any of the players who joined the #ForTheGame ‘boycott’ to go against that and sign with a North American league regardless.
On May 28, 2019, Hutchison signed with the Riveters after already having signed with them on a PTO and practiced with them last season, despite not seeing any gameplay. She is a New York native, so there wasn’t much doubt we would see her in red next season. With five goals and five assists on the season, along with a question mark about her character after being suspended for her final game of the Maine season, it’s understandable why she was taken late, but if she can build off of that in the NWHL, the Riveters will have a lot of good
It is worthy to note as well that earlier this season, the Riveters traded future considerations for goaltender Maria Sorokina, who has since left the team due to unknown reasons. It is unclear whether this draft or next is the one that will be affected, but it is possible that some or one of these names will end up playing for the Connecticut Whale due to the trade.
Overall, the Riveters choices were…odd, even before this #ForTheGame situation. With all the struggles they had this season, I found it hard to believe they didn’t go with a defender at all, much less with Megan Keller available right off the bat, who is an absolute superstar. (Keller ended up going third overall to the Buffalo Beauts.) Everything has basically been turned on its head for the NWHL and North American women’s hockey, so it’s a long road to October this year. But for Riveters fans, it’s time to put this season behind us and focus on the future which can be great if all of these players play and live up to their potential.