The NLL is back in a big way, and with Week 2 over and two weeks of action under our belts, we can take a look at what we have learned so far. Are we crowning a champion yet? Absolutely not! But there has been enough lacrosse played at this point to let some decent storylines start to develop.
So, what are a few key ones?
What Do We Know After NLL Week 2?
Having a Great Goalie Really Matters
A few years ago, I wrote about how league expansion would put a strain on the supply of quality starting keepers. Some of it has held true, but the emergence of quality younger keepers like Christian Del Bianco and Warren Hill while former backups take on larger roles like Zach Higgins and Alex Buque has changed the situation. But when your keeper is really on, that has proven to be a major difference maker in this short season.
Hill was causing fits for Toronto in holding it to seven while Frank Scigliano’s four goals against while on the road in Colorado could very well be the lowest we see all year. Conversely, two of the four winless teams – New York and Panther City – have been giving both keepers time in cage.
Newcomers with an Impact
Given the gargantuan offseason we just went through, it’s no shock that a number of veterans are on new teams. But there are a few who are showing already why they were sought after as teams retooled for this season.
The top of the list is obviously Callum Crawford. Crawford was leading the league when things closed down in 2020, and he’s still right on track in 2021 so far. Aided by the Riptide’s three games, he’s currently sitting at first in the NLL in scoring behind seven goals and 11 assists.
The next major move was Dane Dobbie going to San Diego. The payoff there is him immediately leading the team with nine points over two games, including some jaw-dropping plays this past weekend in Colorado.
Rounding out this group we have Corey Small, who is leading the NLL with eight points per game off six goals and 10 assists. To keep things in perspective, he only had 37 points (17G, 20A) over 11 games in 2019-2020.
The Young Guns
While the previous trio have been around the NLL for a while, there are some newcomers making a name for themselves.
The top of this list has to be the Thunderbirds’ Clarke Petterson, who was absolutely electric in this week’s win over the Rock. Halifax is a very loaded team to begin with, but his eight goals and four assists has him well on track to blow out his 2020 total of 16 goals and 22 assists.
Two other new names that are a little quieter but starting to heat up are Larson Sundown and Tre Leclaire. Sundown – an RIT alum – has 10 points off three games in New York so far, but his best game was a two goal, three assist effort against the Wings.
Then you have Leclaire from Ohio State in San Diego looking like an absolute sniper. He’s currently holding into five goals and three assists over two games, but he was three and two in Colorado and looking nearly unstoppable at times. If this is the early season Tre Leclaire, I’m almost scared to see what he’s like when he gets used to NLL speed.
Coming off a solid year where no fans were allowed in most events, it’s not a shock to see that we’re not staring at fully-packed arenas in the first two weeks of the season. I almost titled this section as “Attendance Concerns,” but I don’t think that’s quite right. Teams are obviously hoping for the biggest crowds possible, but most teams are reporting in the 3,000 to 4,000 range, not in the 10,000+ range many are likely hoping for.
Is this bad? We just concluded Week 2 of the NLL season, so it’s still too early to tell. But what we do know so far is this is worth keeping an eye on to see if, especially into January, the numbers start ramping up again.
The ESPN Deal Is Superb
This isn’t a shock, but I have to personally say that it’s extremely nice to have all games on a single platform with ESPN+. There’s no hunting around for games, you can just keep hopping from one to the next (or run multiple screens, if you’re so inclined), but the move to the ESPN networks for this season is already on a great track.