Sports

Team USA star Taylor Heise of Minnesota expected to be top pick in new hockey league

PWHL Taking Shape Hockey
Team USA Taylor Heise (27) with teammates after the IIHF World Championship Women's ice hockey match against Japan in Herning, Denmark, in 2022. The newly launched Professional Women's Hockey League is taking shape. And Minnesota is looking ahead to the league's inaugural draft on Monday, when the yet-to-be-named franchise is expected to select Taylor Heise with the No. 1 pick.
Bo Amstrup | Ritzau Scanpix via AP 2022

The Hockey News and the Athletic are predicting Minnesotan Taylor Heise will be selected first in the newly launched Professional Women’s Hockey League draft on Monday.

Minnesota is one of just six teams in the new league and has the first pick in the draft.

“I’ve played in front of my Minnesota fans here for gosh, 15 years,” Heise told MPR News. “Minnesota has the best fans in the nation. It’s the state of hockey for a reason. So it would mean a lot.”

Heise, 23, is a hockey superstar who grew up in Lake City and skated for the Minnesota Gophers in college. In 172 games with the Gophers, she earned 225 points and was named the top college player in 2022.

Canada’s The Hockey News called Heise “the obvious choice to go first overall.”

Without naming who, Minnesota GM Natalie Darwitz would only say she already has a good idea on who she's picking first.

Kelly Pannek, Team USA women's hockey
Kelly Pannek, Team USA women's hockey
Mike Ehrmann | Getty Images

The possibility of Heise makes sense, given how Darwitz stayed close to home by filling her three, pre-draft free-agent spots. She signed two Minnesotans, Kelly Pannek and Lee Stecklein, and Kendall Coyne Schofield, who is from Chicago, and previously played in Minnesota.

Toronto has the second pick, followed by Boston, New York, Ottawa and Montreal. Teams will then select in the reverse order in each succeeding round of the 15-round draft.

Lee Stecklein, Team USA women's hockey
Lee Stecklein, Team USA women's hockey
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Training camps are set to open in November, with each team playing a 24-game schedule that opens in January for a league that will bring together the top women players in the world, with a majority of them members of U.S. and Canadian national teams.

The league is financially backed by Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter, and includes former tennis star Billie Jean King on its board of directors, bringing what players hope to be much-needed, long-term financial stability and vision to a sport that’s had difficulty gaining traction professionally.

Each team began forming the foundation of its roster by signing three players to six-figure, three-year contracts. The majority of the players signed had connections to their respective communities, with most national team players staying in their home countries. The only exception was Canadian defender Micah Zandee-Hart joining Team USA players Alex Carpenter and Abby Roque by signing in New York.

Pannek, the dependable two-way U.S. national team forward, jumped at the opportunity to become the first PWHL player to sign a contract, and do so with Minnesota. The 27-year-old is from Plymouth, Minn., won two national titles with the Golden Gophers and her agent, Brant Feldman, just happened to represent Darwitz.

“I think it was no secret that this is where I wanted to be. And when the opportunity came along, I was ready and pretty decisive,” said Pannek, who followed up a day later by shooting a hole in one.

“Just a whole lot of luck, that’s all I’ll say about that,” she added about her golf feat. “It made for a pretty fun weekend.”

Darwitz hoped good things come in threes.

“We have Kelly as the first-ever signee. We have the first pick, so we would love to have that third No. 1, too, hopefully in June,” she said, referring to winning a PWHL title.

Heise, college hockey’s player of the year in 2022, is grateful in knowing she can transition to the PWHL immediately after completing her college career. Her predecessors had to wait.

“I have to give credit to all the women and people who have put in the time and effort to get our league started and to get all the groundwork done,” she said. “I’m super, super excited to prosper off of this amazing opportunity and do everything I can to continue the success of this league.”

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