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CWHL Draft: 10 incoming rookies who could make noise next season

The CWHL draft takes place in less than three weeks in Toronto. Which incoming first-year pros could make the biggest splash next season?

The CWHL draft is set to take place in less than three weeks’ time in Toronto, and with the registration for incoming players set to close Friday, it appears we can finally get a full glimpse of the talent set to enter the league next season, including a number of notable rookies who could turn heads in 2018-19.

Some notable names who’ve registered for the draft, including Tatiana Rafter and Meeri Raisanen, won’t appear below. Although they’ll both be heading towards their CWHL debuts, both have histories in other pro leagues in the past. Only first-year players, those either coming straight out of the college ranks or without prior experience in the CWHL, NWHL or any European league, made the cut.

VICTORIA BACH, C
Hard to say that Bach was robbed of the Patty Kazmaier Award given Daryl Watts’ outstanding 42-goal, 82-point freshman season, but the Boston University standout had a season that was arguably just as great. In her senior campaign, Bach, 22, rifled home a career-best 39 goals and 67 points to cap off her college career. It was the cherry on top of an impressive NCAA tenure that saw her score 104 goals and 198 points in 145 games at the collegiate level. But Bach is now ready to take her next step.

One note, though: Bach won’t be going first or second overall despite her standing as the top first-year forward in the draft. New pre-draft signing rules for incoming players allowed draft picks to have some control over their future, and Bach took advantage by signing with the defending Clarkson Cup champion Markham Thunder.

SHEA TILEY, G
Forget about limiting it to goaltenders. Tiley might have the best resume of any player, period.

Tiley, 21, was remarkable for Clarkson University over her four-year run in the NCAA, never once having a goals-against average above 1.60 and maintaining a save percentage of at least .930 in all four campaigns. Not only that, but Tiley backstopped Clarkson to consecutive NCAA crowns in 2016-17 and 2017-18. That is only the tip of the iceberg for Tiley, however. She matched legendary NCAA netminder Noora Raty’s career win total this past season and sits tied for second all-time with 114 NCAA victories, wrapped up her career with the fourth-most shutouts in NCAA history (36), her career 1.38 GAA is the seventh-best all-time and her career .937 SP puts her into a tie for 12th all-time.

Oh, and it should be said that before heading to Clarkson, Tiley led Canada’s U18 team to gold in 2013-14, all the while earning top-three player honors to go along with a tournament-best 0.33 GAA and .986 SP.

SARAH NURSE, LW
Nurse, 23, is a first-year pro but a familiar face on the international circuit. This past season, she plied her trade as a middle-six winger on Team Canada, where she scored six goals and nine points in 32 games across all competitions. Included in her output, too, was a single tally at the 2018 Olympics, where she won bronze with the national team. Having her mettle tested on a stage as big as the Olympics is certainly going to give her stock a boost heading into the draft.

That said, as much as her international performance will excite CWHL GMs, her NCAA numbers are what stand out most. Across four seasons at University of Wisconsin, Nurse scored 76 goals and 137 points in 150 games.

ALEX RIGSBY, G
Rigsby, 26, doesn’t quite fit the first-year mold in the same way as Bach or Tiley. Truth be told, she’s not all that much like Nurse, either. Because while Nurse’s first non-college campaign was spent on the international circuit, Rigsby has spent the four full seasons plying her trade with Team USA. During that time, Rigsby has backstopped the national team to two gold medals, led the World Championship in GAA (0.31) and SP (.986) in 2015-16 and earned a spot on the gold-medal winning 2018 US Olympic team.

This is, however, Rigsby’s first foray into the pro game, and it will come with high expectations. During her college career at Wisconsin, Rigsby guided the Badgers to the 2011 national championship and battled her way into the record books. She’s inside the top 10 in SP (.941), GAA (1.50), shutouts (30) and wins (100).

REBECCA LESLIE, RW
Leslie was the other half of the Terriers’ one-two offensive punch. Riding shotgun alongside Bach, Leslie was steadily productive over the course of her four campaigns at Boston University, posting 69 goals and 171 points in 139 games. Her senior season was far and away her standout year, though, as she had her first 20-goal season — 24 tallies, to be exact — and set a new career high with 57 points in 33 games.

The best-case scenario for Markham, and worst-case for the rest of the league, would have been to pair Bach and Leslie once again, but that won’t be the case. The 22-year-old also took the opportunity to sign pre-draft and joined forces with the Calgary Inferno. That gives Leslie the chance to play alongside Brianna Decker next season, though, and that duo could wreak havoc all over the CWHL.

MELLISSA CHANNELL, D
After finishing up her time at University of Wisconsin, Channell could have decided to enter the draft last season or head to the NWHL, where she had previously been selected 11th overall in the 2016 draft. Instead, she took a year away from the game, but now the 23-year-old is ready to return and make the move to the pro ranks. She’d be a worthwhile acquisition in the draft, too, for teams looking to add a steady and consistent blueliner.

While her offensive totals aren’t gaudy — her career-best was a 20-point campaign in 2014-15 — Channell scored at least three goals and 15 points in each of her final three college seasons. Channell was a stalwart on the back end of three WCHA winning clubs and helped Wisconsin earn a berth in the national championship game in 2016-17.

JULIA FEDESKI, D
Fedeski, 21, has proven herself to have more offensive upside to her game than any first-year blueliner entering the draft. Spending the past four seasons at University of New Hampshire, Fedeski saw a steady rise in her offensive numbers over her college career, including a standout six-goal, 22-point campaign as a junior. Her senior year saw her overall total dip to 17 points, but Fedeski set a new career mark last season with seven goals, giving her a career total of 17 goals and 55 points across 130 career games. Fedeski’s most likely role as she enters the CWHL is that of power play quarterback. Over her past two seasons, 11 of her 13 goals have come on the power play.

BRITTANY HOWARD, RW
Her numbers aren’t as impressive as Bach’s and she’s not coming off of putting up career-best totals like Leslie, but that might make Howard somewhat underrated heading into the draft. To say the Robert Morris University standout was doing it all herself wouldn’t be accurate, but she was certainly the primary offensive catalyst on a team that doesn’t have a rich history of NCAA success. Last season, Howard led the Colonials with 25 goals and 49 points — the former a career high, the latter one shy of matching her previous best — and helped drive Robert Morris to their first NCAA tournament appearance in program history.

An all-situations player who was lethal on the penalty kill and power play, Howard, 23, leaves the NCAA as the Colonials’ top all-time scorer with 79 goals and 181 points, which puts her into a tie for 55th all-time in NCAA scoring.

HANNAH MILLER, C
If Miller, 22, had entered the draft last season, she might rank higher on the list given she was fresh off of a 15-goal, 48-point performance that put her 12th in NCAA scoring. One season later, though, and her offense slipped considerably. Playing six fewer games, down from 36 to 32, Miller scored 13 goals and 39 points for St. Lawrence University. Her consistent production over the past three seasons is proof enough of her offensive ability, though.

And even if her totals took a hit last season, the skillful center has a certain pedigree that is sure to draw attention from CWHL front offices. Before heading to St. Lawerence, Miller skated in consecutive U18 World Junior Championships for Team Canada, scoring a combined two goals and six points in 10 games en route to back-to-back gold medals.

TAYLOR WILLARD, D
Statistically, Willard finds herself in a strange spot as she enters the draft. Over the past three seasons at University of Vermont, Willard has steadily watched her totals decline. As a sophomore, she notched 10 goals and 19 points. That was followed by a four-goal, 16-point campaign and, this past season, a four-goal, 14-point output. But what shouldn’t be overlooked is the trust Willard’s coaching staff at Vermont put in her.

Handed the captaincy as a junior, Willard has worn the ‘C’ for the Catamounts in each of the past two seasons, and while an NCAA tournament appearance eluded the team, Vermont nearly shocked Boston College in 2016-17’s Hockey East tournament, taking the contest to double overtime before losing to the eventual conference champion Eagles.

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