As most fans of professional lacrosse know, making the active roster is a very difficult task. Making the roster as an unproven rookie is even more challenging. Especially in the highly physical NLL, most rookies take at least a few games to get their feet under them and make serious contributions. For some reason though, some rookies this year show that growing pains don’t seem to be hurting them at all. Here’s a quick look at what various rookies around the league have been up to after just two weeks of action.
Any discussion about rookie performance in the NLL has to start with Randy Staats and his friends in Georgia. Lyle Thompson may have been the first overall pick in the draft, and even teammates Jesse King and Chad Tutton were drafted before Staats, but Staats is the one putting up the numbers early. After just two games, Staats is tied for second in the league with 14 points, coming from six goals and eight assists. King has two goals, four assists while Thompson follows with three goals and a pair of helpers. Tutton as a defender is sitting with a goal and an assist while also has picked up 11 loose balls.
This just covers the numbers side of it though. When actually watching this group of rookies play, there is no way you would think that these are just their first NLL games. Their comfort level of being on the floor and playing against players bigger, strong, and faster than what they’re used to has been very high from the start. It may not be immediately obvious, but there are just small plays like a loose ball Thompson grabbed in their opener against Colorado. He was in traffic and came away virtually untouched despite being surrounded by defenders. In this past weekend’s game against Toronto, Staats made a play that any announcer would have heaped praise upon as a “wily” move if he were a veteran. Late in the game, Georgia needed to kill some clock and milk their lead. Staats took the ball into the corner with two Rock defenders all over him. While he was in the corner, he did a sort of hidden ball trick and left it on the floor while he cut to the crease, being relentlessly checked by the defenders. After he shot without a ball and the shot clock expired, the Rock saw the referee pointing to the ball in the corner still. It’s a small play, but that in-game and situational awareness probably burned about 5 seconds of clock by itself.
The other teams relying heavily on their rookie class have not shown as much promise right away. This should not last given their team history, but Calgary, Rochester, and Toronto all are playing multiple rookies. Calgary’s stable of five rookies is headlined by Wes Berg, who has had a pair of great first games at an individual level. He only has two goals with four assists, but he leads the team in loose balls with 15 while also shooting at just 10.5%. That number should certainly go up, and with it, Calgary’s success in the win column. Fellow first year forward Reilly O’Connor has had much less shooting success, going 0/9 while grabbing 7 loosies. On the back end for the Roughnecks are Kellen LeClair with just one loose ball in one game and Tyson Bell with six loose balls and no goals to show for his six shots. They also have the #15 overall pick, goalie Christian Del Bianco, but he has yet to see the game day roster.
Rochester’s fresh legs are all on the defensive side of the ball, which made sense given their emphasis in recent years to build up their offense. #2 overall pick Graeme Hossak absolutely lived up to his hype, grabbing eight loosies and scoring on both of his shots in his debut. Aside from him, the rookies had a quiet night in their opening loss to Colorado. Adam Bomberry did well with face offs, going 15/29 while also notching an assist. Cross-town RIT grads Brad Gillies and Derek Searle also both are on the active roster with Searle getting the opening night scratch and Gillies picking up a loose ball in his effort. Much can be said about the Knighthawks dropping their season opener to Colorado, but when you factor in four rookie defenders, you have to conclude that their situation will only improve, especially since they’re under the tutelage of Sid Smith, Paul Dawson, and Matt Vinc.
Toronto is another team who is getting up there in the team age department, and actually had two rookies see time. Forward Turner Evans recorded and assist while going 0/4 on shooting and Luc Magnan picked up four loose balls on defense. First round pick Dan Lintner (traded for Kevin Crowley from New England) was scratched for game one, but given their offensive struggles against Georgia, he may be out there for the next one.
In Buffalo’s win over Calgary, they scratched Mitch de Snoo while playing forward Anthony Malcom. He didn’t have a stellar night shooting, missing on all four of his shots, but he did cause four turnovers and grabbed four loosies.
Colorado not only has the two latest round rookies still on active rosters, but actually had phenomenal output from the #52 overall pick, defender Jordan Gilles. In their first two games, Gilles is 2/2 shooting while also grabbing 11 loose balls. They scratched #32 overall pick Bryce Sweeting in both games so far this year.
We also have three teams who have not let a rookie see the floor. Dan Taylor for the Rush (#12 overall draft pick), Jordan Durston in Vancouver (#19 overall), and Black Wolf Mike MacDonald (#22 overall) were all scratches for their teams the first time out. Taylor and MacDonald may have a tougher time fighting for a spot in the coming week given their team success, but Durston has a good shot at being given a chance in Vancouver after they only managed seven goals in their opener.
Who are do you think is ready to come out of his shell? Do you think Staats can last all 18 games? Let us know in the comments below!