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Beauts go big in 2018 draft

Nik Fattey nets two national team players and two touted prospects

Megan Keller looks up ice for the developing play
Michelle Jay

The 2018 NWHL draft took place over a two-day period this week. The league appears to have taken steps to address the shortcomings of previous versions of the draft; whereas the players drafted once appeared to be placeholders, and were drafted in concept only, the women selected this year seemed to have had conversations with the teams that had chosen them and knew they were being considered.

In the past, the Buffalo Beauts have stuck to a certain script, selecting players in and around the Western New York Region and occasionally into southern Ontario. This has been a
season of transition for Buffalo, though; and general manager Nik Fattey certainly put his stamp on his first entry draft.

Selections were announced via twitter, with players still taking part in their collegiate seasons. Buffalo selected third in the draft and Fattey wasted no time, selecting Boston College defender Megan Keller. Keller, who leads the Eagles in points this season, was actually on the ice training with the US National team when her selection was announced, along with a handful of her future professional teammates.

“I was really excited,” Keller told the Detroit Free Press. “Just to have a draft for a women’s professional hockey league is really cool. I’m excited for the future. I know I already have some teammates in Buffalo.”

She wouldn’t have to wait long to learn that she’d be joined by Loren Gabel. The Clarkson forward has 176 points (90 goals, 86 assists) in her four seasons, with two of her first three being national championships. Gabel has also dressed for Hockey Canada and offered a goal and an assist in two 4 Nations Cup matchups. She was a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier award following the 2017-18 season.

“It is an honor to be drafted to the Buffalo Beauts. This is an amazing organization and I am excited for what the future holds for me as a professional hockey player,” Gabel stated following her selection. Gabel played with Beauts rookie Savannah Harmon at Clarkson, and is surely looking forward to being reunited with her former captain.

The thirteenth pick in the draft was Colgate captain Jessie Eldridge. The Ontario native was a key component in the team’s storied run through the Frozen Four in the 2017-18 season, leading the team in goals, points, and shots. She will fit in perfectly on a team that has made a concerted effort to increase shot rates.

In the fourth round, Buffalo chose Nichols High School graduate Olivia Zafuto. The defender played her college hockey with Eldridge at Colgate and finished fourth on the team in points while tying Clarkson for the regular season ECAC title. Zafuto grew up playing hockey with Beauts forward Annika Zalewski on the Buffalo Bisons, at Nichols, and then at Colgate. The Raiders trio brings an instant chemistry that is rarely found on other teams in the NWHL.

Olivia Zafuto joins the play in the neutral zone
Michelle Jay/The Ice Garden

The final choice for the Beauts was Nicole Schammel. Schammel transferred to Minnesota and played three seasons for the Golden Gophers, scoring 91 points in 133 games (40G, 51A). If Schammel were to sign with the team, she’d come to Buffalo from her home state, joining fellow Minnesota native Corinne Buie.

Two national team players, two Frozen Four Finalists, and a Golden Gopher is quite a haul for Fattey - especially if each of the players intends to sign in Buffalo. There are a few empty slots on the Beauts’ roster, which means the team would not necessarily need to make changes to the current lineup in order to accommodate the excellence acquired in the draft. It will be interesting to see how the team navigates the summer with these additions and perspective free agents.