First-year players had one last chance to impress and enhance their chances of claiming the National Lacrosse League’s Rookie of the Year Award with the 2016 Regular Season coming to a close last weekend. We have seen numerous stand out performances from what was arguably one of the best rookie classes in years.
With Randy Staats lighting up the scoreboard on a regular basis, Graeme Hossack shutting down all-star calibre players week in and week out and Jesse King dominating with his elite floor vision and lightning quick shot, NLL fans across the league saw a consistent battle for the top spot in the weekly rookie rankings. And certainly shouldn’t forget about the rest of the first year players that made this 2016 rookie class one of the best ever.
Outside of Staats, Hossack and King, the likes of Wesley Berg, Chad Tutton and Lyle Thompson all were bright spots for their respective teams. Berg consistently stepped up for the Calgary Roughnecks, taking on an added role when Dane Dobbie missed a stretch of games with an injury.
Meanwhile Tutton, who was considered by some to have gone earlier than he should have in the 2015 draft, showed on countless occasions that he completely warranted being the league’s fifth overall pick with his superb two-way play.
Then we have first overall pick Lyle Thompson. He had a bit of a slow start before exploding at the Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Rock. Following that game Thompson slumped a little but 2015’s top pick exploded again down the stretch, undoubtedly helping solidify the Swarm as a playoff team in 2016.
The top six guys were consistent throughout the season with only the odd week where one of them would slip out of the top six. However, outside of that group we saw several serviceable rookies who were able to make impacts on different levels at different times throughout the 2016 Regular season.
The likes of Anthony Malcom, Jordan Gilles, Jordan Durston, Turner Evans, Dan Taylor and Reilly O’Connor all had their moments despite playing in what would be considered limited rolls for their respective clubs. Of the bunch, sixth-round pick Gilles was afforded the most opportunity after earning his spot in the Mammoth’s active lineup. Gilles performed admirably out the back door for the Mammoth and was excellent in transition, using elite foot speed and sound decision making to excel in his first NLL season.
Malcom and Durston found themselves plying their trade behind dynamic offensive duos in both Buffalo and Vancouver. Malcom was behind future Hall of Famer Mark Steenhuis and the league’s new single-season points leader in Dhane Smith in Buffalo. Durston was behind a pair of potent lefties, Corey Small and Logan Schuss, in Vancouver. Still, both found ways to produce and draw the eye of onlookers.
Taylor, Evans and O’Connor all had ups and downs this season. Taylor and Evans were in and out of the lineup with Saskatchewan and Toronto, respectively. In O’Connor’s case he simply found it hard to get consistent touches in the Calgary Roughnecks offence. As a player who thrives with the ball in his stick, it was an adjustment for O’Connor throughout his rookie campaign. Still when O’Connor got his chance with Dane Dobbie out of the Roughnecks lineup, he made the best of it, producing consecutive multiple-point performances.
Taylor fell victim to a deep and talented Rush roster. Despite that, when Taylor did make his way into the lineup he always managed to produce, finishing the season with an impressive 23 points in just eight games.
Evans needed to bide his time on the sidelines once Josh Sanderson returned to the lineup but when injures hit the Rock, Evans was re-inserted. Regular playing time resulted in a noticeable change in his confidence level, which in turn sparked his year-end offensive production, finishing the season with 27 points in 12 games.
Having already mentioned fifteen names from this season’s rookie class, it’s hard to ignore the depth and talent that was injected into the league in 2016. But fifteen players isn’t the cutoff; there are still a dozen more players worth making note of. In Toronto it’s hard to ignore diminutive, spark plug goal scorer Dan Lintner. The former Minto Cup Champion appeared in 13 games with the Rock, tallying 23 points in a limited role with limited touches. Still there were games when Lintner brought a compete level that fellow offensive guns lining the Rock’s attack simply did not have.
In Calgary, defender Tyson Bell burst onto the scene early in the season, displaying tenacious defence, excellent foot speed and an ability to transition up floor, finding offensive production on occasion. While his play hit a wall, Bell bounced back after the few sub-par efforts he did put forth this season.
Meanwhile the East leading Bandits were helped by the big body of Mitch de Snoo. de Snoo is vastly underrated in this strong rookie class, as he consistently was a threat in transition, strong in his own end and a beast on loose balls.
On to some of the defensive guys we’ve yet to mention. D guys often don’t get the love they deserve, especially rookie D guys, and they really should as the transition from any level of lacrosse to the NLL is especially hard on defenders due to the significant pace of play at the pro level.
Rochester had a trio of defenders that debuted this season, making impacts at different times. Derek Searle, Adam Bomberry and Brad Gillies all showed well when they saw duty for the Knighthawks, and may very well be the future on the d-side of the ball for Rochester as their aging defence struggled at times this season. Western Division defenders Thomas Hoggarth and Kellen LeClair were two of the youngest players plying their trade in the NLL this season and neither looked out of place. While the pair of defenders will return to their respective Junior teams in Peterborough and Six Nations, it’s important to note their steady contributions at the NLL level this season.
As we make our way to the conclusion of the final Rookie Report of the 2016 season, I’d be remiss if I didn’t conclude with the names of the other rookies to make their NLL debut: Adam Will (BUF), Tyler Ferreira (BUF), Christian Del Bianco (CGY), Bryce Sweeting (COL), Josh Sullivan (COL), Reid Acton (GA), Michael Seidel (GA), Mike MacDonald (NE), Pete Rennie (NE), Ty Thomson (ROC), Luc Magnan (TOR), Kyle Aquin (TOR), Keegan Bal (VAN), Ryan Wagner (VAN), Brier Jonathan (VAN).
FINAL Rookie Rankings
1. Randy Staats (RF) – Georgia Swarm
2. Graeme Hossack (D) – Rochester Knighthawks
3. Jesse King (LF) – Georgia Swarm
4. Wesley Berg (RF) – Calgary Roughnecks
5. Chad Tutton (D) – Georgia Swarm
6. Lyle Thompson (RF) – Georgia Swarm
7. Jordan Durston (LF) – Vancouver Stealth
8. Anthony Malcom (RF) – Buffalo Bandits
9. Jordan Gilles (D) – Colorado Mammoth
10. Mitch de Snoo (D) – Buffalo Bandits