We’re only about a month away from the 2013 NLL season. Two training camps have already started up, and the rest kick off this weekend, so it’s about time for some preseason rankings. Bear in mind that there’s still a ton to sort out: who’s reporting to camp, who’s getting cut, trades, etc. But for now, here’s the way the teams are looking.
#9 – Washington Stealth
After winning the championship in 2010 and making it back to the finals the following year, the wheels came off with a quickness for the Washington Stealth. They had five single-digit offensive performances last year, they closed out the season on a four game losing streak, and Captain Jason Bloom retired in the off-season.
The Stealth didn’t have a first round pick, but they had three in the second round, including the 11th and 12th overall picks. Since they had the seventh best offense last season, it’s interesting that they used all three of those picks on defensemen. On the other hand, they had the seventh best defense too, and they picked up some pretty solid offensive players in the later rounds (including Mitch Jones, who scored 88 points with Minto Cup champion Orangeville last season), so maybe the strategy will pay off.
#8 – Philadelphia Wings
The 2012 Wings were like that team in your fantasy football league that everybody else hates: they gave up a ton of points, scored way fewer, and the next thing you know, they still managed to win seven games and grab a playoff spot. They’re currently riding a six-game losing streak, but they’ve added Kyle Hartzell, Kevin Ross, and Kevin Buchanan to help turn things around.
The Wings didn’t get to draft anyone until the fourth round, and when they did, they went for large All-Americans, picking up Duke’s Mike Manley and CJ Costabile, along with Notre Dame’s Kevin Randall. Granted it’s a completely different animal, but Manley had a very impressive rookie season this summer with the Rattlers, and it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles his continued transition to the box game.
With names like Westervelt, Merrill, Siebald and Crotty, the Wings roster reads like an MLL all-star lineup. With their new additions and draft picks, they might see similar box results and their first winning season since 2008.
#7 – Buffalo Bandits
The 2013 Buffalo Bandits could look very different from the 2012 squad that lost to Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. In addition to Captain Chris White signing with The Rock, and Jeremy Thompson being traded to Edmonton, the Bandits added Shawn Williams (20g, 65a for the Rush last season), and had six of the first 40 picks in the draft, drafting Junior “A” MVP Dhane Smith fifth overall.
It won’t be entirely new faces in Buffalo, “44” year old (I put that in quotes because he clearly doesn’t age like a normal human) John Tavares is back for at least one more year. Tavares finished last season with 80 points (his 41 goals were second in the league); if he keeps that up and the Bandits can get a rebound year from Tracy Kelusky, they won’t miss any of the guys they lost.
#6 – Edmonton Rush
So here’s the good news for the Rush: they didn’t give up many goals (only 175, second best in the league). The bad news? They didn’t score many either (only 167, good for dead last). That could definitely change this season, because Mark Matthews is on the way to the Rexall Center.
Edmonton didn’t just pick up Matthews though, they got him tons of support. Not only that, but they all seem to already know each other. Matthews, second pick (and 2011 Minto Cup MVP) Curtis Knight and third pick Michael Cudmore all played with the Junior “A” Whitby Warriors (led by Edmonton coach Derek Keenan), and fourth pick Michael Burke just finished playing Canadian field ball with Knight. If the Rush can turn this familiarity into production, this team could be in great shape for years to come.
#5 – Toronto Rock
The 2011 champion Rock followed things up with a pretty middle-of-the-road 2012. Fourth in goals scored, fourth in goals allowed, won a playoff game… you know, it’s hard to complain all that much. Last season’s results were actually pretty impressive considering the wave of injuries they had to deal with: multiple concussions, broken collarbones, you name it.
Despite the team’s health concerns, there were some bright spots on offense. MVP runner-up Garrett Billings scored 114 points last season (including 15 in a single game) and set a league record with 82 assists. Captain Colin Doyle scored 67 points last season, putting his career total at 1119, just 47 away from passing Gary Gait for second all-time.
Toronto spent their first two draft picks on defensive support for goalie Nick Rose. Rose went 5-1 as a starter once he joined Toronto last season; add some young defenders to the mix and you’ve got a team that could very tough to score on.
#4 – Minnesota Swarm
The future’s looking very bright for the Minnesota Swarm. Last season they went 9-7 (their first time above .500 since 2008), scored the most goals in franchise history, and after getting bounced in the first round for five straight years, they finally won a playoff game. Making things even better, they had the second, third, and fourth overall picks in this year’s draft.
One challenge coming into the season will be replacing Kevin Ross, who they sent to Philadelphia for a 2015 first round pick. Ross (28g, 31a) was third on the team in scoring last season, and Minnesota’s hoping fourth pick Shayne Jackson will be able to step in and fill that lefty scoring gap.
The Swarm scored the third-most goals in the league last year and they gave up the third-least. They’re also the only active franchise that hasn’t been to the Finals. If those draft picks pan out, maybe this could be the year that changes.
#3 – Rochester Knighthawks
If you’re putting together a preseason ranking, you probably subscribe to either the Bill Parcells (i.e., you are what your record says you are) or Ric Flair (i.e., to be the man, woo, you’ve got to beat the man) school of thought.
Unless he was beefing with Bret “The Hitman” Hart, I generally considered myself a Flair guy, which is why I really wanted to give the Knighthawks the #1 spot in the preseason ranks. Unfortunately their 7-9 regular season record (coupled with the fact that their offense only produced 9 goals in three of their last four games last year) made this impossible.
The Knighthawks didn’t have a draft pick until the third round, but when last year’s Knighthawk rookie class included immediate contributors like Stephen Keogh and Johnny Powless, maybe missing out this year won’t bother them all that much. It looks like they’ve decided to let the offense grow together and get younger on the defensive side via the draft and free agent signings. Oh, and speaking of signings, Casey Powell is officially back in Rochester after a year away from the NLL. They’ve got the belt and Casey but can’t get past #3? Just get that scoring back up and I’ll be happy to change it.
#2 – Calgary Roughnecks
Look, nobody’s going to look at you funny if you want to call the Roughnecks your preseason #1. They had six players score 50 points or more last season, most of any team in the league. They scored the second-most goals and gave up the least, holding their opponent to 15 goals or less in every game but one. Unfortunately, that one time was when they gave up 19 to Edmonton (the team Rochester held to 6 goals in the championship) in the first round of the playoffs.
The Roughnecks had back-to-back picks in the first round, taking Joe Resetarits and Matthew Dinsdale sixth and seventh, respectively. Resetarits is a New Yorker but has been playing box in Canada for years, and both guys are expected to make immediate contributions to that already well-balanced offense. Again, if you want them at #1, I don’t blame you one bit. I’m just going with…
#1 – Colorado Mammoth
It’s tough to argue against a team that has this kind of offensive production. Rookie of the Year Adam Jones was an absolute monster right out the gate, scoring six points in his NLL debut and never looking back. Gavin Prout scored 23 more points than he did in 2011, and reigning MLL & MSL champ John Grant Jr. missed two games last season and still set the single-season points record. Imagine what he can do now that his sternum is in one piece. You heard about that, right? The man fractured his sternum on a cross check last season, took a little time off, and did this in his first game back:
The Mammoth only had three draft picks (and none in rounds 2-4), so they drafted forward Colton Clark and picked up some defensive-minded free agents, including Rich Morgan, the gentleman who fractured Junior’s sternum in the first place. If the Mammoth can cut down on the number of goals they give up, they’re going to be a serious problem.
As you can see, I’ve talked myself into almost every team in the league having a chance to win it all this season. Now it’s time to see what happens. Can the Stealth get back to championship form? Can John Grant Jr. hold three championships at the same time? Can Matthews and Knight become the NLL version of Durant and Westbrook? Will Paul Rabil ever show up? Who knows, anything’s possible in the NLL.
Stay tuned, remember to catch the games on The Lacrosse Network, and check back here for stories and updates throughout the season.