Three NWHL stars who went in the wrong direction this season

Kaitlin Cimini/Today's Slapshot

Last month FanRag Sports took a look at three CWHL stars who watched their stock drop this year. Now with the NWHL offseason around the corner, it’s time to we turn our attention to the other elite North American league.

Today we’re going to look at three big name NWHL players who failed to live up to expectations this year.

Nicole Stock, Connecticut Whale

This was Stock’s first year as a starting goaltender in the NWHL. She did not deliver a particularly convincing performance .

Last year Stock was Jaimie Leonoff’s understudy, playing behind what most considered the second-best team in the league. She put up impressive numbers despite facing an avalanche of shots. Her save percentage last season was on par with Brittany Ott’s — and she won goaltender of the year.

Whale general manager Lisa Giovanelli wasn’t grasping at straws when she moved forward this season with Stock and Shenae Lundberg. The numbers suggested that Stock would be a solid starting goaltender. But the numbers this season told a different story.

Stock’s save percentage dropped from 0.926 last season to 0.858 this year. According to the goalie metrics of Giants in the Crease Stock had the worst GSAA (goals saved above average) in the league this year. It was a rough her for stock.

It’s important to clarify that the drop in Stock’s numbers this year – particularly her struggles on the penalty kill – wasn’t entirely her fault. Connecticut lost two key defenders in Ivana Bilic and Molly Engstrom after the NWHL’s salary cuts. Since the team never replaced those important players, Stock played the majority of the season behind the worst blue line in the league.

If Stock is back in the NWHL next year she could rebound if there is a better defense in front of her. She wasn’t the problem with the Whale this season, but one could make the case that she didn’t do enough to stop the bleeding.

Jordan Smelker, Boston Pride

Last year Smelker played wing on the best line in the NWHL. Smelker’s two-way game worked beautifully with superstars Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight. She finished sixth in the league in scoring with 19 points in 18 games.

Things went much differently for the Alaskan forward this year.

With Knight out of the lineup for most of the regular season, Smelker’s numbers fell off a cliff. Her shooting percentage dropped from 21.4 percent last year to 12.5 percent this year. She put almost one fewer shot on net per game playing away from Knight and, later in the season, Decker.

By the end of the regular season Bobby Jay had taken her off of the top line. Smelker finished the year with just 8 points in 15 games.

Smelker is a player that the Pride will need to bounce back next season with so much of the team likely lost to Olympic centralization. She might not return to being a point-per-game player, but her production should rebound if she returns to a featured role.

Kaleigh Fratkin – New York Riveters

Last season, Kaleigh Fratkin was the highest-scoring defender in the NWHL playing with the Connecticut Whale. As a result she earned the sixth-largest contract for a blueliner when she signed with the Riveters in the offseason.

New York badly needed some offensive punch on the blue line last year. Chad Wiseman saw the aggressive Canadian defender as an answer to that problem, and the early returns were very encouraging.

Fratkin started the year on Wiseman’s top pairing with Michelle Picard. She was also the team’s power play quarterback out of the gate. But by season’s end she was demoted to the second power play unit and playing wing on the third line.

It was a dramatic change in role for the Riveters highest-paid defender. And — unsurprisingly — that change in role had a huge impact on Fratkin’s numbers. They crashed.

At season’s end Fratkin had just 6 points in 18 games with the Riveters after putting up 17 points in 18 games last year in Connecticut. After the New Year she was regularly playing wing in a depth role. She finished the year with an underwhelming 2 assists in her last 8 regular season games. Her power play production was cut in half.

On the bright side Fratkin took far fewer penalty minutes than she did last year with the Whale. She also proved to be an effective forward after a few awkward games. Make no mistake about it — Fratkin is still a star defender, but she might benefit from another change of scenery.

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