Riveters make big splash on opening day of NWHL free agency

In the brief history of the New York Riveters, May 1, 2016 may be remembered as the $50,000 day. Spending approximately 20 per cent of their salary cap on a trio of free agents, general manager Chad Wiseman has made a bold statement about ensuring that the Riveters do not end up in the basement for the second consecutive season.

After trading away the rights to Alex Carpenter, a possible franchise player and potential face for the league, to the Boston Pride, Riveters fans were briefly left to ponder what might have been. Wiseman would ensure that such grief would not last as he acquired one of the most coveted free agents in all of hockey.

Signing Amanda Kessel to a one-year deal worth $26,000, she now surpassed Kelli Stack as the highest paid player in the NWHL. Following such an acquisition, the Riveters would welcome a pair of Connecticut Whale stars into the fold.

Elite blueliner Kaleigh Fratkin was signed to a deal worth $19,500 while goaltender Jaimie Leonoff agreed on a one-year contract worth $10,000, making the team’s grand total $55,500 for a trio of free agents that will be expected to turn the franchise’s fortunes around.

With any free agent signing, there is an element of risk, making such acquisitions a gamble. Taking into account that Kessel was shelved for close to two years due to concussion related problems, there is definitely a fear that such woes may resurface in the NWHL. Should Kessel suffer another concussion, it will be another sad chapter in the ravage that the injury has caused, abruptly cutting many playing careers short

Undoubtedly, a healthy Kessel is good for the game overall. Should she remain healthy, she will clearly be the marquee player for the Riveters, helping add an element of excitement for women’s hockey in the New York market. Kessel has demonstrated a readiness to play, as demonstrated by her heroics as she scored the game-winning goal for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four title game.

Strategically, the acquisition of Kessel may prove to pay positive dividends for the Riveters. During a week filled with many trades, Wiseman also acquired the playing rights to Hannah Brandt on April 27. Selected second overall in the 2015 NWHL Draft, the first-ever selection in Connecticut Whale draft history, it was a shrewd acquisition on the part of the franchise.

Considering that Brandt and Kessel were linemates with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the chance to extend careers as linemates in the NWHL may prove to be the elixir to remedy the Riveters’ offensive woes. From a draft standpoint, their involvement with the Riveters may prove to be even more important.

With the first overall pick in the 2016 NWHL Draft, the Riveters shall likely turn to Minnesota once again for another piece of the puzzle. Forward Dani Cameranesi and blueliner Lee Stecklein are definitely the top prospects in this year’s draft. Should the Riveters select one of them, they shall be known colloquially as “Minnesota East.”

Adding to the momentum of acquiring Kessel are a pair of Canadian-born players that made their mark with the Connecticut Whale during its inaugural season. In becoming the first free agents to actually change alleagiances and sign with another team, Kaleigh Fratkin and Jaimie Leonoff become part of a unique chapter in league history.

For these two distinguished competitors, they have been making history since they first signed with the Whale. From the outset, Fratkin, a native of British Columbia, became the first Canadian-born blueliner to sign an NWHL contract. In addition to participating in the league’s inaugural All-Star Game, Fratkin would also play with the Boston Pride for one day, gracing the ice at the Women’s Winter Classic.

Having led all NWHL blueliners in scoring during the league’s inaugural campaign, Fratkin displayed a scoring proficiency that will prove crucial for the Riveters. In a season where the Riveters struggled to assemble any offensive attack, the club lacked an offensive minded blueliner. The arrival of Fratkin should also provide the Riveters with a quarterback on the power play, likely adding more W’s to the wins column.

Standing between the pipes in 10 games for the Whale, Jaimie Leonoff not only gained the first win in franchise history, she would also be credited with the first win in league history. The Montreal-raised Leonoff would also gain the start in the NWHL All-Star Game, allowing the first goal in all-star history.

Finishing her season with a 7-3-0 mark, complemented by a solid .936 save percentage, Leonoff will be given every opportunity to earn the starting goaltenders job. As a side note, Nana Fujimoto, the Riveters starter in 2015-16 was Leonoff’s teammate at the All-Star Game.

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