As we’ve mentioned, this year should be an absolute banger for the WCHA. Between players returning from an Olympic year, to players receiving a bonus year because of the pandemic, WCHA rosters are going to be stacked even more than usual this season, which should make for some really good hockey.
That extends to the league’s newcomers as well. Early on in the recruiting process, there was the feeling that this year’s group might be a little down. It certainly wasn’t the strongest group out of the Minnesota high school ranks, which supplies a lot of the league’s talent.
But between players deferring a year due to the Olympics, some late-risers developing into elite-level prospects, and some really good Europeans choosing the NCAA route late in the process, there are some really good players in this year’s rookie class.
Here are some of the new names in the WCHA this year, listed alphabetically, that you’ll likely be hearing a lot about this season.
Josefin Bouveng, Forward, Minnesota
European players can be a bit of a wild card because of a scarcity of information to draw comparisons from. It’s usually just a small handful of international games, and even then, it can be difficult to draw a good read because the North American teams are so much deeper on the whole. But Bouveng is about as safe a bet to be an impact player as you can get.
She was a clear standout for Sweden at the Women’s U18 Worlds way back in 2019—by comparison, Hannah Bilka who starred on the US team that year is beginning her fourth year at Boston College this season—so she’s not only bringing a lot of talent and skill, but also a lot more maturity and experience than the typical freshman. Since then, Bouveng has been a top scorer in Sweden’s top domestic surrounded by former NCAA greats at the top of the scoring table and established herself as one of the top forwards on Sweden’s national team. She may be the rookie most ready to step in and make an immediate impact for her team.
Danielle Burgen, Forward, Minnesota Duluth
Burgen holds the rare distinction of being a three-time member of the US Women’s U18 team—or at least she would have if the 2021 tournament had not been canceled—which puts her in some exclusive company with some great college players. She’ll bring a strong two-way game to the Bulldogs and plays with a physical edge to her game. This may be a quieter season given all the super seniors UMD has returning, but Burgen should be one of the cornerstones of the next generation for the Bulldogs.
Laila Edwards, Forward, Wisconsin
Pre-pandemic, Edwards was a lanky forward that seemed to have a high ceiling, but hadn’t really put things together and was kind of on the fringe of the national team picture. By the time the World U18s returned two years later, she was literally the best player in the world, taking home the tournament’s MVP honors this summer.
At 6’2”, Edwards reach is a huge advantage both in protecting the puck offensively and disrupting the play defensively. Normally, that type of size comes at the expense of speed and quickness, but Edwards is a strong enough skater that she is able to keep up with the pace of play against smaller, quicker players, which makes for an elite combination that no other player can really match.
Caroline Harvey, Defender, Wisconsin
As NCAA rookies go, it’s pretty tough to beat the pedigree of someone starting her freshman season a year late because she spent last season with the US Olympic team. That was enough to earn Harvey WCHA preseason rookie of the year.
Harvey is an elite skater and should play big minutes for the Badgers right away. The big challenge for her over her NCAA career will be if she can add more offensive elements to her game to become more of a driver of offense. Even if she doesn’t, the floor of a reliable defender capable of playing 25+ minutes against any competition is incredibly valuable.
Tova Henderson, Defender, Minnesota Duluth
Henderson maybe doesn’t have the high-end upside of some of the other rookie defenders coming into the WCHA this year like Harvey or Laitinen, but she had an extremely solid World U18s for Team Canada where she impressed with her steady, quiet game. Finding reliable defenders is extremely difficult and Henderson should be able to eat a lot of minutes for UMD.
Nelli Laitinen, Defender, Minnesota
The list of defenders to average a point per game in last year’s Olympics is an exclusive club: Canadians Claire Thompson and Erin Ambrose, USA’s Savannah Harmon, and Laitinen, who scored seven points in seven games for the Finns in a breakout performance. She has the potential to be a game-changing offensive defenseman.
She beat out Caroline Harvey for best defender at the 2020 Women’s U18 Worlds—and not for a lack of ice-time on Harvey’s part—becoming the only European to ever win that honor, and will likely be in the conversation for best rookie in the WCHA this year.
Sydney Morrow, Defender, Ohio State
There is perhaps no better example of the impact an elite high-scoring defender can make than Sophie Jaques, who scored 59 points in 38 games last season en route to Ohio State’s first national championship. It’s dangerous to project that Morrow might be able to match those numbers, because that is an absurd amount of points for one season, but.....the talent is there.
While Morrow might not have the speed and natural skating ability of Caroline Harvey, she is arguably the more complete offensive player. Her strength and balance make it impossible to knock her off the puck and buys her extra time to make plays with the puck that most players cannot.
There is likely to be an apprenticeship this year under Jaques as Morrow adjusts to the college game, but it likely won’t be long before she is a top option on the OSU power play and putting up big point totals.
Kirsten Simms, Forward, Wisconsin
Simms is the most skilled, dynamic forward in the world for her age group. The plan for the top power play unit on the US U18 team this past summer was basically just give the puck to Simms and let her skate around the zone until she found an opening she liked.
It’s going to be much for difficult for Simms to dangle around the competition like she did in youth hockey, but her quick hands, vision and creativity should make her a scoring threat against any level of competition.
Whitney Tuttle, Forward, Minnesota State
Tuttle was one of the top forwards in Minnesota high school hockey last year, scoring 71 points against solid metro-area competition, and leading her team to a state tournament appearance. The Mavericks have strong top line offense returning, and Tuttle’s speed and scoring ability could provide some nice secondary scoring depth.
Laura Zimmermann, Forward, St. Cloud State
Brian Idalski was famously close to landing a commitment from Swiss star Alina Muller before North Dakota dropped their women’s hockey program in 2017. Now, Idalski will begin his attempt at rebuilding St. Cloud State’s program with one of Muller’s international teammates in Zimmermann.
Zimmermann is obviously nowhere near the level of Muller, who is one of the world’s best, but has shown the ability to puck in the net in her Swiss league and may contribute some scoring punch for a St. Cloud State that traditionally struggles to put the puck in the net.