The first two rounds of the 2018 NWHL Draft were held on Dec. 19 and five of the first ten players selected all have ties to USA Hockey – including three members from the 2018 Olympic gold medal team. Each team had two selections and the order was based upon this season’s current standings, which meant that the defending Isobel Cup champion Metropolitan Riveters picked first. This is the third time in four drafts that the Rivs held the first selection – they selected Alex Carpenter first overall in 2015 (her rights were later traded to the Boston Pride for the rights to Miye D’Oench) and Kelsey Koelzer in 2016.
This year the Riveters selected forward Annie Pankowski from Wisconsin University who is also part of the US National Team with the first overall pick and the Connecticut Whale also drafted a player with ties to the USWNT, forward Melissa Samoskevich from nearby Quinnipiac University, with the second overall pick. Picking third the Buffalo Beauts picked the first of three consecutive gold medalists when they selected defender Megan Keller from Boston College. With the fourth pick, the expansion Minnesota Whitecaps made the University of Minnesota’s forward Kelly Pannek their first-ever draftee and Boston chose defender Kali Flanagan from Boston College with the final selection in the first round.
Rounds 3-5 will be held on Dec. 20 at 11 am and will be announced by the NWHL via Twitter and Instagram.
The Riveters opted for the one of the best players available in drafting Pankowski, rather than looking for local talent. Only two players have ever been drafted by the Rivs and actually suited up for them: Koelzer, Jenny Ryan (2016, 9th overall) but the hope should be that they can add Wisconsin’s scoring star for a playoff push. “It’s been amazing to watch the NWHL grow and I’m so honored to be drafted as a part of it,” Pankowski said. “It’s inspiring to watch the league continue to grow the game.”
The recently turned 24-year-old has two gold medals with Team USA at the World Championships (2015, 2016) and could potentially join a handful of other Badgers on the Rivs. Madison Packer, Ryan, Courtney Burke, Kelly Nash, and Erika Lawler all played at Wisconsin.
“Annie is a fabulous, dynamic forward who quite simply is one of the best players in the game today,” said Riveters head coach Randy Velischek. “The Riveters are proud to select her with the first overall pick, and we wish her well in the remainder of this season.”
With their second selection the Rivs opted for a player who has ties to New Jersey, snagging forward Kendall Cornine from RIT. She was born in New Jersey and also developed as a player there as well before beginning her college career where she is now her team’s captain as a senior. “I’m extremely excited to have been selected by the Riveters to further my playing career in the NWHL,” said Cornine. “I’m very thankful for my past and current coaches and teammates for helping me get to this point, and looking forward to the future.”
The Whale stayed local with their first pick, selecting Samoskevich (who is from Bridgeport) with the second overall pick. She had two goals in four games at the recently completed 4 Nations Cup for Team USA. Over the course of their history Connecticut has become a destination for Quinnipiac grads turning pro with players like Kelly Babstock, Nicole Kosta, Nicole Connery, Sydney Rossman and Emma Greco all wearing a Whale jersey at some point. They currently have two Quinnipiac alumna on this season’s roster: Elena Orlando and Cydney Roesler.
The 21-year-old Samoskevich has led the Bobcats in points the past two seasons and the Whale’s bench boss is excited to add another talented offensive player to his lineup at some point. “She is an explosive player that understands the game from both sides of the puck,” said Connecticut’s head coach Ryan Equale of Quinnipiac’s current captain. “She has played and excelled at the highest level of hockey for high school and college and we are excited for the future holds for her.”
With their second round pick the Whale drafted Makenna Newkirk seventh overall, bringing the total of Boston College players drafted to three – the most of any school on day one of the 2018 NWHL Draft. Like Samoskevich, Newkirk knows how to put the puck in the net and the Whale has been offensively challenged in previous seasons, so it fills an immediate need.
Congrats to Arizona’s own (and our former intern) Makenna Newkirk on going 7th overall. 👊
— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) December 19, 2018
She is currently fifth in school history in points (170), tied for fourth in assists (102), sixth in goals (68), fourth in game-winning goals (14), and fifth in power play goals (21). According to the Eagles website, she is the lone Division I player that has finished each of the previous three seasons in the top 25 in NCAA scoring.
Buffalo added even more talent to one of the most talented rosters when they selected Keller third overall. The current co-captain of the Eagles already has the school record for defenders in points (135) and assists (102) and has three World Championship gold medals (2015, 2016, 2017) in addition to her recently won Olympic gold medal. Her 102 assists are tied for fourth overall in program history.
Loren Gabel was the Beauts second round pick and the forward has been a part of the last two NCAA titles with Clarkson University. She is first in goals (90), third in points (176) on the school’s all-time list and was teammates with current Buffalo defender Savannah Harmon. This season she already has 32 points (14g-18a) in just 16 games.
“It’s an honor to be drafted by the Buffalo Beauts,” said Gabel who is from Kitchener, Ontario. “This is an amazing organization and I am excited for what the future holds for me as a professional hockey player.”
This is the first NWHL Draft that the Minnesota Whitecaps have participated in and not surprisingly they selected two players with ties to the State of Hockey with the fourth and ninth overall picks. This season 19 of the 25 players on their roster are from Minnesota so the Whitecaps made two safe picks with Pannek at four and forward Sophia Shaver, who is currently at the University of Wisconsin, with the ninth overall pick. Both players should add depth next season to an already deep forward corps.
Pannek has two NCAA championships (2015, 2016) and a gold medal at the World Championships (2017) to go along with the Olympic gold medal she won this past February. The Gophers captain is third on the team in scoring with 19 points (11g-8a) in 18 games.
Shaver, is a co-captain at Wisconsin, has 68 points (26g-42a) in 133 career games with the Badgers and was a member of the U18 Team USA that won gold at the World Junior Championships in 2015. “Her size, speed and shot will be great assets for us next season,” said Whitecaps head coach Ronda Engelhardt.
— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerWHockey) December 19, 2018
“It’s such an honor to be drafted by the Whitecaps. I’m so grateful that the growth of women’s hockey led to the addition of a team in my hometown so my childhood dream of playing professional hockey in front of Minnesota hockey fans is now a reality,” said Shaver.
With Keller off the board already it was a no-brainer for Boston to snatch Flanagan with their first-round pick. The Pride already have eight players on their roster that have played at Boston College. Three players on the current roster were drafted last season by the Pride including goaltender, and top overall pick in 2017, Katie Burt who is tied for the league lead in wins at the moment. In addition to her Olympic gold medal Flanagan also has a gold medal from the World Championships (2017).
“Kali is an unbelievable skater, all-zone player, and an Olympic gold medalist. Welcome to the Pride family, Kali,” said Boston’s head coach Paul Mara, who was an assistant coach for the gold medal winning team.
With the final pick of the second round Boston chose forward Bailey Larson from Colgate University. The 22-year-old has 105 points (40g-65a) in 133 collegiate games and this season has 13 points in 18 games. “This was always something I’ve dreamed about. When I was asked what I was going to be when I grew up in kindergarten I said ‘a professional hockey player’, and it’s indescribable that I have the chance to,” said Larson.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.