The Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) has its first-ever draft pick, with Taylor Heise going to Minnesota with the first overall pick. 

Draft order was determined via lottery, with the Minnesota franchise receiving the first pick. The full first-round selections were as follows:

  1. Minnesota – Taylor Heise, F, United States
  2. Toronto – Jocelyne Larocque, D, Canada
  3. Boston – Alina Müller, F, Switzerland
  4. New York – Ella Shelton, D, Canada
  5. Ottawa – Savannah Harmon, D, United States
  6. Montreal – Erin Ambrose, D, Canada

A total of 268 players are eligible and have declared for the draft, with many believing that NCAA standout Heise would be the first overall pick. A Minnesota native who played for the Golden Gophers and was co-captain her senior year, it seems almost scripted for her to begin her professional career at home under the leadership of Minnesota legend and PWHL general manager Natalie Darwitz, who was her coach at Minnesota. 

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

And while Darwitz wouldn’t name names, she told the Associated Press that she already had a good idea of who she was going to select with the No. 1 overall pick. 

Heise is the winner of the 2022 Patty Kazmaier Award, which goes to the top player in women’s college hockey. She also stars for Team USA, helping them to gold at women’s world championships in April.

“Minnesota is my home. Everyone that I love is there and it’s the state of hockey,” Heise said on the broadcast. “I’m just really honored I am going to be able to play and be able to show the little girls that anything is possible if you keep working hard.”

While players aren’t automatically signed to teams as a result of the draft, Heise’s signing is all but a given. Teams will retain the rights of drafted players for two years. Players can then re-enter the draft, but they are only allowed to do so once. 

“Trailblazing is bold. It’s brave, and it can be very scary,” PWHL co-founder Billie Jean King said Monday before announcing Heise as the first PWHL pick. “It’s not about a single moment. It’s about a movement. Finally giving women professional hockey players the structure, the support and the platform they deserve. That hockey deserves.”

As the draft continues, Just Women’s Sports takes a look at who’s already signed with teams during the free agency period.

Minnesota

Heise rounds out what was a stout free agency period for Minnesota and Darwitz, which featured two of the team’s three signings hailing from the state. Kendall Coyne Schofield was the lone outsider, and even then she’s from Illinois. The USA Hockey star was joined by Kelly Pannek and Lee Stecklein, who both also captained the University of Minnesota.

Montreal

Having the final pick of the first round in the draft meant that Montreal and general manager Danielle Savageau needed to make a splash elsewhere, and they did. They signed Marie-Philip Poulin, arguably the top player in the women’s game and captain of Team Canada. She’ll be joined by Laura Stacey, whose versatility is overshadowed by Team Canada’s star power. In net, the team will have Ann-Renée Desbiens, automatically making them a contender in this league. 

Boston

Boston and general manager Danielle Marmer have the most balanced signings of any team, starting hot with Team USA captain and reigning world champion Hilary Knight at forward. Megan Keller, a three-time Patty Kazmaier Award finalist at Boston College, backs her up on defense, while Northeastern star, 2021 Patty Kazmaier Award winner and world champion Aerin Frankel will star in net for the Boston team. There’s a lot riding on this team, as Boston were three-time champions and two-time reigning champions in the PHF. 

New York

Pascal Daoust brought the present and future to New York with his signings, bringing in young star Abby Roque while adding decorated veteran Alex Carpenter to help guide Roque. Carpenter has a wealth of professional experience, and had nine points at the world championships this year en route to winning a gold medal with Team USA. Team Canada defender Mica Zandee-Hart is the heart of the defense, and the lone player to not sign with a team in her home country as a native of British Columbia.

Toronto

Gina Kingsbury started her tenure as general manager by signing a pair of star forwards in Sarah Nurse and Blayre Turnbull. She also added Renata Fast, one of just four defenders signed in the initial free agency period.

Ottawa

Three Team Canada veterans joined general manager Michael Hirshfeld’s squad in free agency: forwards Emily Clark and Brianne Jenner and goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer.

The newly formed Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) will feature six teams in its inaugural season, three in the U.S. and three in Canada.

The PWHL officially announced its franchise locations in a news conference Tuesday, but the league provided an early reveal via its newly unveiled account on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. The PWHL account follows exactly six other accounts — those of its teams in the New York City area, Boston, Minnesota, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Team names and logos will be revealed later.

In choosing its sites, the PWHL hewed closely to the imprint of the defunct Premier Hockey Federation. Investors in the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association bought out the Premier Hockey Federation in June, clearing the way for the PWHL as the singular professional women’s league in North America.

The traveling four-team PWHPA played in showcase events around the U.S. and Canada. The seven-team PHF had franchises in Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, New York/New Jersey, Minnesota, Montreal and Toronto, five of which are represented in the PWHL.

“We wanted a market that was excited about the women’s game, that had a lot of traditional hockey fans that we thought would support women’s hockey,” said Jayna Hefford, the senior vice president of hockey operations for the PWHL.

The PWHL, which counts with Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter and tennis legend Billie Jean King are among its primary investors, sought markets that could provide arenas large enough to host games as well as dedicated training facilities for the home teams. Washington, D.C., and London, Ontario, were two other potential sites discussed by the league, the Associated Press reported.

Players will soon find out which of the teams they will call home for the 24-game inaugural season, which is set to begin in January 2024. Each team can sign up to three players during a free-agency window starting on Sept. 1, and then a 15-round draft will follow on Sept. 18 in Toronto. Players from both the PWHPA and PHF, plus NCAA graduates and international players, will have the opportunity to declare for the draft.

Teams will be able to sign additional players after the draft, and each roster will feature 23 players. The CBA lays out a salary range of $35,000 to $80,000 per season, and six players on each team will be signed to three-year contracts of no less than $80,000 per season.

The PHWL Players Association ratified its collective bargaining agreement via a unanimous vote in early July, making it the first union in North American women’s pro sports — and possibly all of pro sports — to have a ratified CBA prior to the start of competition. Ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, Brian Burke signed a multi-year deal as the executive director of the Professional Women’s Hockey League Players Association union, a source told Just Women’s Sports. The executive committee for the union, which includes Brianne Jenner, Hilary Knight, Liz Knox, Sarah Nurse and Kendall Coyne Schofield, supervised the hiring.

Burke, 68, most recently served as the president of hockey operations of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins from 2021 to 2023. He also served as a board member for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which folded in 2019. He called Tuesday the “most exciting day in the history of women’s hockey.”

The PWHL has received advice from the NHL as it plots out its inaugural season, board member Stan Kasten said. The leagues also plan to collaborate on neutral-site games for PWHL teams, special events such as the outdoor Winter Classic series and more.

“They have been fantastically supportive of us from the first minute. … They understand this is our league and we’re going to have to make our own decisions,” Kasten said.

Members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) ratified their collective bargaining agreement via a unanimous vote Sunday night after a 72-hour voting window.

The new CBA also comes on the heels of the confirmation of a new women’s professional hockey league, which is slated to launch in January 2024 with financial and leadership support from the Mark Walter Group and Billie Jean King Enterprises.

The union, dubbed the Professional Women’s Hockey League Players Association (PWHLPA), was voluntarily recognized by its new employer, though the league itself is yet to be named. It is the first union in North American women’s pro sports — and possibly all of pro sports — to have a ratified CBA prior to the start of competition. The WNBA ratified its first CBA in 1999 ahead of the league’s third season, while the NWSL’s first CBA was finalized in 2022 ahead of the league’s 10th season.

The PWHPA’s bargaining committee — consisting of Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianne Jenner, Hilary Knight, Liz Knox and Sarah Nurse — negotiated with the league’s new owners for five months. They kept PWHPA players up-to-date on the negotiation process until the final CBA was proposed on Thursday night.

The new women’s hockey CBA outlines salary and facility requirements and guarantees benefits and standards for health insurance, housing stipends, a 401(k) program, relocation expenses, per diems, hotel accommodations, pregnancy benefits, childcare coverage, parental leave, nursing accommodations and more. 

Hailey Salvian of The Athletic reported that salaries will range from $35,000 to $80,000 or more during the initial year of competition, with minimum salaries set to increase by 3% each year. Salvian also reported that the CBA includes stipulations that no more than nine players can be paid the league minimum and that, during year one, at least six players per team will be signed to three-year $80,000-plus guaranteed contracts.

According to a source who reviewed the document, there isn’t a traditional salary cap. Instead, the CBA is structured on salary averages to ensure that the divide between lowest and highest paid players doesn’t grow too large.

 “It sets us up with this foundation and expectations. Players know what they’re going to get,” PWHPA operations consultant Jayna Hefford told Just Women’s Sports.

“There are player protections and workplace safety (requirements). There are standards that are going to have to be met as it relates to facilities and where players train. All of that is critical to the success of a long term, viable league.”

Stan Kasten, a member of the league’s new board who was part of the negotiating process, praised the players involved. 

“I can’t say enough about the determination of this group of PWHPA players. They fought for what they believe, they were determined, passionate and really, really smart,” Kasten told Just Women’s Sports.

“They held out until they got the rights, the protections, the facilities – all of those things that elite athletes deserve. And they didn’t settle for second best, they waited. And they wound up with something that is kind of a dream come true for all of us involved in this.” 

When the PWHPA filed its articles of incorporation in 2019 following the collapse of the CWHL, as players looked for more than what the PHF (then NWHL) could guarantee, the group cited sustainability as one of its goals.

“We are prepared to stop playing for a year—which is crushing to even think about—because we know how important a sustainable league will be to the future of women’s sports,” Shannon Szabados, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Canada, said at the time. 

It ultimately took four years, not one, but Kasten said the new ownership group is in it for the long haul. 

“We have not just a long-term vision, but a permanent vision, and that requires funding,” he said. “It requires infrastructure. And, most of all, it requires strength of ownership and leadership. And we’re starting with Mark Walter and Billie Jean King and, I’m sorry, it doesn’t get better than that.”

There is a long history of women’s sports leagues — including women’s hockey leagues — launching without proper funding, infrastructure, or safety measures in place. That was even one of the factors Sally Yates cited in the U.S. Soccer-commissioned report into abuse in the NWSL. 

“In the haste to get the League off the ground, the Federation conducted limited financial due diligence on the new league’s prospective owners and did not put in place the infrastructure or planning necessary to support the League over the long haul. Instead, the focus was on putting eight teams on the field,” the Yates report read.

The new hockey league is looking to avoid such pitfalls.

“Fans maybe don’t understand why (a CBA) is so important, but when we look at those other leagues, when we look at what’s happened in women’s hockey, a lot of those difficult things that have happened were because there weren’t player protections and workplace safety and termination clauses,” Hefford said. 

While current PWHPA members negotiated and voted on the CBA, former PHF members will be eligible to join the PWHLPA union.