PWHL Draft: Ken Klee and staff will make Minnesota’s picks after GM Natalie Darwitz’s dismissal

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The Professional Women’s Hockey League released a statement on Saturday acknowledging  that Natalie Darwitz has been removed as Minnesota’s general manager. One bit of clarity that came out of the announcement is that head coach Ken Klee and his staff will be making the team’s selections in Monday’s PWHL draft.

Minnesota will pick third in all seven rounds, with the drafted order determined by the final standings in the regular season.

Assuming Klee will be back as coach next season — possibly with the added title of general manager — he will have the opportunity to handpick players who mesh with his coaching philosophy.

Natalie Darwitz speaks to the media at the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame Induction on Dec. 12, 2018, in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Klee spoke during the season about a shortage of physical forwards on the roster when discussing how Abby Boreen emerged as a key player after she was inserted into the lineup off the reserve list. Boreen will be a full-time player next season and as a result will be in this year’s draft.

While it seems unlikely that Minnesota would use the third overall pick on Boreen, she would appear to be a candidate to be picked in the second round. Teams also will be able to make trades involving draft picks for the first time, so that is an avenue Minnesota could explore as well.

Speaking prior to her departure, Darwitz acknowledged that the PWHL game proved to be more physical than she had anticipated.

“I think the first couple games were a good step in the right direction,” she said. “They allowed the rub-out and things along the wall. Then it turned into open-ice hits, and a few scary moments. And we addressed that and I felt they curbed that a little bit.

“But then I felt it ramped up again in the playoffs — the physicality and the extra hit when the puck was already gone. I’m an advocate of keeping our game clean and keeping it skill-based.”

Darwitz said that in phone calls that took place among general managers during the playoffs there was some confusion over what was and wasn’t allowed when it came to body contact. In that regard she anticipates some clarification from league officials prior to next season.

Darwitz said when she put together the team she did not expect the physical play to be as much of a factor as it proved to be.

“But I feel we adapted really well to it,” she said. “I wouldn’t call us the most physical team; I think we played the right way, where for some other teams it was their No. 1 game plan. For us, it wasn’t.”

Darwitz relied heavily on Minnesotans and players with Midwestern ties in building the first roster, and it will be interesting to see if that continues. Having the likes of Taylor Heise, Grace Zumwinkle and Lee Stecklein on the team — all Minnesotans and former Gophers — added to the local interest.

ELMONT, NEW YORK – MARCH 03: Corinne Schroederm #30 of New York makes the third period stop on Abby Boreen #24 of Minnesota during PWHL play at UBS Arena on March 03, 2024 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

In a league that is focused on building its brand and building an audience, Darwitz felt Minnesota would be well-served to feature local talent.

Among forwards who figure to go early in the draft are Princeton’s Sarah Fillier, Colgate’s Danielle Serdachny and Cornell’s Izzy Daniel, who won the Patty Kazmaier Award. Daniel, who attended The Blake School, was a finalist for the Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award in 2019.

A trio of Big Ten forwards also are expected to hear their names called early: Hannah Bilka and Jennifer Gardiner of Ohio State and Britta Curl of Wisconsin.

Former Gophers standout Amanda Kessel has put her name in the draft after sitting out last season due to her obligations as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins front office.

Among defenders, Canadian Claire Thompson and Cayla Barnes of Ohio State are sure to be near the top of most of the teams’ lists. The same holds true of a couple of European players, Daniela Pejsova of Czechia and Finland’s Ronja Savolainen.

The Gophers’ Maddie Wethington will draw interest, as will Hudson’s Anna Wilgren, who began her collegiate career at Minnesota State Mankato before transferring to Wisconsin.


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