PWHL training camps are set to open for the league’s inaugural season this week. And while there are still plenty of questions — like where are the teams playing? — we are at least getting closer to seeing teams’ final rosters take shape.
Camps will run in the league’s original six markets — Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Minnesota, New York and Boston — for the next four weeks leading up to the roster deadline on Dec. 11, when each team needs to be cut down to 23 players. Each team can also sign two reserve players to bring their player pool up to 25.
Heading into camp, teams were permitted to bring a minimum of 28 players and up to a maximum of 35 players. As of Thursday morning, teams have announced 82 player signings, but there are still plenty of meaningful roster battles across the league’s six teams.
Using the PWHL’s signing tracker and training camp rosters, we decided to mock up each camp roster to illustrate who’s signed, who hasn’t and where the most interesting competition is going to come for each team. The graphics are assuming teams opt to sign 14 forwards, seven defenders and two goalies but leave the option for 13 forwards, eight defenders and two goalies. Of course, some teams may opt to sign three goaltenders, but that will all depend on how players perform at camp.
Signed players: 7
Spots available: 16
Roster battles ahead: Minnesota has the fewest players signed heading into training camp, which means there will be meaningful competition for roster spots. As of Wednesday morning, there are 16 open spots with 22 players left unsigned. There are plenty of spots (eight or nine, depending on how GM Natalie Darwitz fills out the roster) in the forward group and every blue line slot is open except for the No. 1 D, which is Lee Stecklein. One of the interesting battles will be for Nicole Hensley’s backup. Minnesota drafted Amanda Leveille, but Maddie Rooney poses a threat. Rooney led Team USA to a gold medal in the shootout at the 2018 Olympics and was cut from the last few national teams, but is still only 26 years old. I figure one goalie will get a standard player contract and one will be on the reserve list.
Signed players: 19
Spots available: 4
Roster battles ahead: Boston GM Danielle Marmer got to work during free agency, signing all of her draft picks and even a free agent (Kaleigh Fratkin). That means there won’t be many jobs up for grabs at camp, particularly on the back end with seven defenders under contract and two goalies. Cami Kronish or Lindsay Browning could realistically play their way onto the reserve list as No. 3 goalie options, and perhaps Lauren MacInnis has such a good camp that Marmer and coach Courtney Birchard-Kessel decide to go with 13 forwards and eight defenders. But, for the most part, it seems like the biggest roster battle is going to be between six players for four remaining spots in the forward group.
Signed players: 15
Spots available: 8
Roster battles ahead: New York has some meaningful spots open at all three positions, with several solid players fighting for those spots. At forward, keep an eye on Kelly Babstock and Madison Packer, two former Metropolitan Riveters players; and Jill Saulnier, a two-time Team Canada Olympian who adds depth to the roster and is beloved in the room. On defense, expect Jaime Bourbonnais, a current Team Canada defender, to scoop up a spot and that Olympic record holder Claire Thompson will be a reserve player. That leaves two or three spots on defense for six players. New York still needs a second goalie. Corinne Schroeder should have the inside track — she was excellent in the PHF last season and was recently named to Canada’s Rivalry Series roster for the November games against Team USA.
Signed players: 17
Spots available: 6
Roster battles ahead: Ottawa cast a wide net with their camp invites and, in total, will have 14 unsigned players and six open spots. The biggest training camp battle in Ottawa will be at forward, with eight* players vying for four or five open spots. Top-of-mind players include former NWHL MVP Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Fanni Garát-Gasparics and Japan national team forward Akane Shiga.
*Note: Audrey-Anne Veillette underwent knee surgery in October, according to Journal Express. Otherwise, there would be nine forwards fighting for a roster spot at camp.
Signed players: 10
Spots available: 13
Roster battles ahead: Montreal should have an interesting camp with meaningful competition for all three positions. Erin Ambrose is the only defender signed as of Thursday morning, leaving six (or seven) spots for seven unsigned defenders expected to be at camp. At forward, most of the core is signed, with top players from college (Maureen Murphy and Gabrielle David) and the PHF (Leah Lum) still looking for spots. Montreal will need a second goalie to play behind Ann-Renée Desbiens and has four options to choose from, though Elaine Chuli may be the betting favorite, given her excellent year for the Toronto Six in 2022-23.
Note: Mélodie Daoust is expected to be a reserve player, not full-time, as she focuses on her job at Collège Bourget. Lina Ljungblom will not play in Montreal this season as she is under contract with MoDo in the SDHL, according to The Hockey News.
Signed players: 15
Spots available: 8
Roster battles ahead: The top of the lineup in Toronto appears to be set with eight forwards, four defenders and two goalies signed. That leaves meaningful depth roles up for grabs, particularly at forward and defense. I expect Victoria Bach to grab a spot in Toronto’s middle six, and am curious to see how Alexa Vasko — who popped during the PWHPA showcases last year — does at camp. GM Gina Kingsbury also mentioned a traditional method of roster building could look like 13 forwards, seven defenders and three goalies, though it will depend on how players perform over the next few weeks. So, look for Toronto to perhaps carry three goalies.
(Photo of Toronto players Blayre Turnbull, Renata Fast, Jesse Compher and Sarah Nurse with GM Gina Kingsbury: Steve Russell / Toronto Star via Getty Images)