The best way to make a splash in the NWHL Draft is by selecting first overall and that’s exactly what the Connecticut Whale did for the first time in franchise history on June 29.
In fact, they traded up to make sure that Taylor Girard, a forward from Quinnipiac University, would be available to become a member of The Pod.
“We started to see her last year and we knew right away that she was a player that could be an impact player right off the bat and really make a difference,” said Whale head coach Colton Orr. “Adding her to our lineup is pretty exciting.”
Girard headlines the league’s entire class of 2021 selections and is among four players picked by Connecticut including forward Emma Polaski (Syracuse University), defender Hannah Bates (St. Cloud State University), and forward Grace Middleton (University of New Hampshire). The Whale acquired the number one pick from the Buffalo Beauts two weeks before the annual selection process in exchange for the second overall pick along with the team’s third-round selection.
“It’s so special to be drafted by the Whale,” Girard said moments after her selection became official live on the NWHL Draft Show. “I got to know the area of Connecticut the last few years and I love living on the east coast. I’m really happy I can still be close to Quinnipiac and it will make the adjustment easier. I’m excited to really just contribute in any way that I can. I’m really excited to get to know my new teammates and start this next season with the Whale.”
The Macomb, Michigan native finished her senior season ranking second on the Bobcats with 16 points counting seven goals and nine assists in 15 games after amassing 18 points in 24 games the year before. She produced a total of 69 points in 105 games over her collegiate career that also included three seasons at Lindenwood University.
“We’re so proud of all Taylor has accomplished and know she will be an excellent addition to the Whale,” said Bobcats head coach Cassandra Turner. “Taylor competes, is fast, and knows how to score in big moments. Her humble approach and drive to win will help her contribute right away.”
The Whale scored nine times over four games in Lake Placid competition but were shutout in their semifinal matchup against the Minnesota Whitecaps. They’ll benefit from Girard as well as Polaski’s offensive abilities upfront.
“We want to continue to bolster our offense and I think we addressed a little bit of that here in rounds one and two,” Orr said. “Picking Taylor with our first overall pick and also bringing Emma in, who with her work ethic and everything she brings to the team, really fits our culture and our team well.”
Polaski’s four years at Syracuse saw her score an even 31 goals and 31 assists for 62 points in 128 games. She also demonstrated confidence in putting pucks on net with 367 shots including 128 to lead the team in that category during her junior season.
“The opposition will know when Emma is on the ice,” said Orange head coach Paul Flanagan. “She attacks the puck well with her tenacious style of play, is very adept at creating turnovers, and, when she has an opportunity, she can shoot it with the best of them.”
After choosing a pair of forwards in the opening two rounds the Whale used their fourth-round pick on Bates who made history as the first player ever selected in the NWHL Draft from St. Cloud State. The defender notched 17 points over 120 collegiate games and served as an alternate captain her senior season.
“In Hannah, the Whale are getting a well-rounded defender and exceptional person,” said Huskies head coach Steve Macdonald. “On the ice, Hannah defends well with her skating ability and strong compete level. She is able to contribute offensively by jumping into space and advancing the puck on zone entries and in the offensive zone. Hannah was a steady leader during her time here as a Husky and is someone who leads through her example on-ice and how she carries herself off the ice.”
The Whale also added to their forward depth chart in the fifth round with Middleton who produced 22 points in 110 games over four seasons in New Hampshire. The Kinesiology Exercise Science major was a three-time Hockey East All-Academic Team member.
“Grace is a strong forward with a hard shot,” said Wildcats head coach Hilary Witt. “She sees the ice well and can make plays in tight spots. She is a hard-working two-way player who is a dream to coach.”
This marked the second straight season the Whale chose a Wildcat as Middleton reunites with defender Tori Howran chosen seventh overall in 2020. It’s also the second straight year they called a member of the Orange with Polaski following 2020 13th overall pick Savannah Rennie. Connecticut also continued pulling from nearby Quinnipiac with Girard joining the likes of program alumnae Abbie Ives, Melissa Samoskevich, Mackenzie Lancaster, and Elena Orlando who all played for the Whale in Season 6.
Since 2015 the Whale have selected a total of 29 players in the NWHL Draft including 17 forwards, seven defenders, and one goaltender.
CONNECTICUT WHALE 2021 NWHL DRAFT RECAP:
Pick, Player, Position, Team, Collegiate Program / Hometown
Click on a player’s name to see their collegiate program profile
Links to pick announcements will open on Twitter
1. Taylor Girard (F) Connecticut Whale (via BUF) (Quinnipiac University / Macomb, MI)
8. Emma Polaski (F) Connecticut Whale (Syracuse University / Morristown, NJ)
20. Hannah Bates (D) Connecticut Whale (St. Cloud State University / Trenton, MI)
The inaugural NWHL International Draft will be held on July 25 with the Whale holding the second overall selection.