The newest professional sports league in North America, the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) now has 18 players.
Following the opening of free agency on September 1, there was no movement for four days, but when the signings began, they came fast and furious, with each team filling their three available spots. The first official signing in league history was Kelly Pannek, a USA national team member who inked a three-year contract with her home state Minnesota franchise.
In total, 18 Canadian and American national team members all signed three-year deals, securing the foundation of the league’s six teams in Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Minnesota, and New York. Now that each team has signed their maximum allowable three players, the remainder of the player pool will enter into the PWHL Draft on September 18 in Toronto, where Minnesota will pick first overall, a selection they’re expected to use on Team USA member and University of Minnesota graduate Taylor Heise.
Here’s a look at what else happened in PWHL free agency.
Marie-Philip Poulin Stays In Montreal
Nicknamed ‘Captain Clutch,’ Marie-Philip Poulin is considered the best player on the planet. The 32-year-old has a collection of Olympic and World Championship gold medals, and will bring that experience, or rather keep that experience, in Montreal.
Poulin played for the city in the now defunct CWHL and has worked for both McGill University and the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens in recent seasons. After leading the PWHPA’s Secret Dream Gap Tour in scoring last season, Montreal will have the biggest name to help grow the fan base, and also the most talented player on the planet. Montreal also signed Laura Stacey, another Team Canada national team stalwart, who happened to get engaged to Poulin this summer.
Only three teams signed goaltenders
If there’s one position with overwhelming depth heading into the inaugural PWHL season, it’s in the crease. There is no shortage of capable goaltenders from the PWHPA, PHF, Europe, and NCAA graduates who could easily step in and start in this league.
Instead of waiting until the draft, or the post-draft free agency period for any player not selected, three teams chose to secure their netminders through free agency. Montreal took Team Canada starter Ann-Renee Desbiens, while Ottawa signed the other half of Team Canada’s national team tandem in Emerance Maschmeyer.
"You know the 23 players on the national team but there are so many other players that deserve to be known, who are extremely talented, work hard, who may not have had the opportunities that we had in the past" - Ann-Renée Desbiens on the PWHL player pool and CBA
— Jared Book (@jaredbook) September 8, 2023
Boston was the third team to use a free agency position on a goalie, signing Team USA starter Aerin Frankel who led the Americans to a gold medal at the 2023 World Championships. Prior to joining the PWHPA this season, Frankel was the NCAA’s back-to-back goalie of the year with Northeastern, where she also won the Patty Kazmaier Award as the NCAA’s best player.
While these three teams have their goalies, and will likely wait until late in the draft to select another — if they do at all — the market remains flooded with quality goaltenders. That list includes USA national team members Nicole Hensley and Abbey Levy, Canada’s third goaltender Kristen Campbell, PHF Goaltender of the Year Corinne Schroeder, 2023 World Championship Best Goaltender Emma Soderberg of Sweden, future Hockey Hall of Famer Noora Raty of Finland, and Germany’s starter Sandra Abstreiter, among others from the PHF and PWHPA.
Where did the other stars land?
There was no shortage of star power signing in the PWHL. Alongside Pannek in Minnesota, Team USA captain Kendall Coyne-Schofield, and reigning PWHPA Defender of the Year Lee Stecklein put pen to paper.
In Boston, signing to play in front of Frankel were all-time World Championship leading scorer Hilary Knight and top pairing Team USA blueliner Megan Keller.
Toronto signed a trio of Canadian stars in Sarah Nurse, Blayre Turnbull, and Renata Fast, while Ottawa added Brianne Jenner and Emily Clark with Maschmeyer.
The final city to announce their signings was New York, who brought in American standouts Abby Roque and Alex Carpenter, and they were also the only team to sign a national team player from across the border, inking Canadian defender Micah Zandee-Hart. Zandee-Hart was one of the bigger free agency surprises as bigger name defenders remained on the market.
What standout players did not sign in free agency?
Since NCAA and USports players were not eligible to sign, Swiss superstar Alina Muller, USA’s Taylor Heise, and 2023 Patty Kazmaier winner Sophie Jaques will all enter the draft as top prospects. Others with a strong pedigree expected to be snapped up early will incldue Ohio State grad and Canadian national team member Emma Maltais, and past and present American national team members Grace Zumwinkle, Gabbie Hughes, and Jesse Compher.
Among veteran players, Amanda Kessel and Natalie Spooner were the two biggest names not signed during free agency. That group however, includes national team standouts like Erin Ambrose and Savannah Harmon on the blueline.
Similarly, no PHF players were signed in free agency, a list which includes past PHF MVPs Loren Gabel, Kennedy Marchment, and Mikyla Grant-Mentis, goalie of the year Corinne Schroeder, and defender of the year and Olympic gold medalist Kali Flanagan.