As we head into the final week of 2016 National Lacrosse League season, there are a number of intriguing storylines to watch. Will the Rochester Knighthawks catch Georgia for the final playoff spot in the East Division? Will Dhane Smith break Athan Iannucci’s record for goals in a season? And will Randy Staats top Rhys Duch’s record for rookie points in a season? While the Knighthawks will be up against it, trying to catch the Georgia Swarm, the likelihood of Smith and Staats setting NLL records is much higher.

So, does Staats potentially setting the NLL Rookie Scoring record immediately make him the front runner for the league’s Rookie of the Year award? In almost any season other than this one, the short answer would be yes. But with the likes of Graeme Hossack, Jesse King, Wesley Berg and Chad Tutton excelling through their freshmen campaigns, the race for the RotY award is tighter than ever.

Rookies were front and centre yet again in the four games on last weekend’s NLL schedule. Staats and King were dominant in the Swarm’s loss to New England. The Toronto Rock dressed four rookies in their loss to Colorado, including Kyle Aquin who made his NLL debut. The Rochester/Buffalo matchup saw four rookies take the floor with Anthony Malcom and Brad Gillies leading the way points-wise while Hossack was yet again stout defensively. On the West Coast, Saskatchewan Rush forward Dan Taylor found himself in the lineup again and again managed to produce in a limited role, while Vancouver Stealth rookies Thomas Hoggarth and Jordan Durston looked solid in their team’s 14-12 victory over the Rush.

1. (1) Randy Staats (RF) – Georgia Swarm
34-54-88 – 22 PIM – 80 LB – 220 S – 5 CTO
While the Swarm took one on the chin against the New England Black Wolves Saturday night, Staats was his usual dominant self, racking up yet another 5-point performance. Staats now sits with an incredible 88 points in 17 games, placing him ninth overall in NLL scoring. The Swarm’s 1-2 punch of him and King has put the club in position to make the playoffs after missing the post-season with a 6-12 record last year.

2. (5) Graeme Hossack (D) – Rochester Knighthawks
2-3-5 – 9 PIM – 87 LB – 11 S – 19 CTO
The Knighthawks suffered a devastating blow to their post-season hopes when they lost 15-13 at home to the Buffalo Bandits on Saturday night. While that may put a damper on a season that looked promising early on, a true bright spot on the team’s back end has been 6’2” defender Graeme Hossack. The Port Perry, Ontario native never wowed anyone with transition goals or bone crushing, highlight-reel hits. But what he did do was consistently limit the opposing team’s top offensive threats while playing a tough and highly intelligent game. Excelling in nearly every facet of the game on the defensive side of the ball and in transition, Hossack surely deserves to be right there with Randy Staats in Rookie of the Year voting.

3. (2) Jesse King (LF) – Georgia Swarm
22-52-74 – 11 PIM – 76 LB – 135 S – 8 CTO
In most years, King and his 74 points would be a lock to earn Rookie of the Year and while he still has a chance at doing so, the talented lefty out of Victoria, BC finds himself sitting behind Staats and Hossack in the rookie rankings. This is no slight to King, who was excellent yet again in the Swarm’s loss to New England, piling up 6 points on 4 goals and 2 assists. It simply speaks to how dominant Staats and Hossack have been at their respective ends of the floor that King is a long shot. None the less, King’s floor vision, playmaking abilities and elite finishing ability have all played a large factor in getting the Swarm to the position they find themselves in heading to the last weekend of the season.

4. (4) Wesley Berg (RF) – Calgary Roughnecks
21-39-60 – 16 PIM – 79 LB – 181 S – 5 CTO
Berg’s Roughnecks had Week 17 off as they sat at home awaiting the Toronto Rock for their final regular season game of 2016. While Berg has been nothing short of fantastic for the Roughnecks, rising to the occasion whenever he’s been called upon, he still finds himself behind three peers in the rookie rankings. Berg’s athleticism, confidence and potent offensive abilities have all played a large factor in the Roughnecks success this season, something that was never more evident than when the team was without star lefty Dane Dobbie. Berg comes into the last week of the season with 21 goals and 39 assists, good for 60 points, placing him in a tie with Dobbie for third overall in team scoring.

5. (3) Chad Tutton (D) – Georgia Swarm
14-8-22 – 32 PIM – 86 LB – 62 S – 22 CTO
Georgia may have shocked some league observers when they selected Tutton with the fifth pick in the draft, but as the season progressed the Swarm looked like geniuses as Tutton excelled at both ends of the floor. Playing with a high compete level and usually controlled aggression, Tutton routinely forced turnovers, was excellent on loose balls and even contributed consistently at the offensive end. Tutton has won wherever he has played and he has helped Georgia move in that direction this season. With 14 goals and 22 points in 17 games this season, Tutton has surely out-produced even the most ambitious predictions. His impact has been felt even more in the defensive zone where the Courtice, Ontario native forced 22 turnovers, scooped up 86 loose balls and was a near shutdown defender almost every night.

6. (6) Lyle Thompson (RF) – Georgia Swarm
25-32-57 – 12 PIM – 73 LB – 139 S – 11 CTO
The first overall pick in the 2015 NLL draft entered the season with the most hype of any of the rookies, which was warranted given his dominance at the NCAA level. While Thompson did struggle at times this season, he has been on quite a potent scoring streak the past few weeks, tallying 22 points in his last five games. Thompson currently sits fifth in Swarm scoring with 57 points on 25 goals and 32 assists, an impressive output for a first-year player. While the hype surrounding him may have placed unfair expectations on the 23-year-old, Thompson performed admirably throughout the season despite often limited touches and tons of pressure. Him sitting in the sixth spot may surprise some, but that’s more of a testament to how good the 2016 NLL rookie class has been this season than a slight on his performance.

7. (7) Jordan Durston (LF) – Vancouver Stealth
16-20-36 – 27 PIM – 44 LB – 62 S – 2 CTO
After sitting out the Stealth’s season opener, Durston got into the club’s lineup in Game 2 and hasn’t left it since. While the Wallaceburg, Ontario native had a quiet Week 17, he has produced at a fairly sound clip for the Stealth, racking up 16 goals and 20 assists in 16 games. Durston found his niche as a depth player with Vancouver and has excelled in that role since being inserted into the lineup. The touches were limited but Durston found a way to take full advantage of every opportunity he was afforded. While Durston may never reach the point production level of some of his peers from the 2015 NLL draft, he certainly looks on track to have a solid career.

8. (9) Anthony Malcom (RF) – Buffalo Bandits
16-20-36 – 2 PIM – 50 LB – 81 S – 1 CTO
Malcom added a goal and an assist in the Bandits 15-13 win over the Rochester Knighthawks this past weekend, a stat line reflective of his production throughout the 2016 NLL campaign. Like Thompson and Durston, Malcom has found touches hard to come by. Playing behind Dhane Smith and Mark Steenhuis doesn’t exactly afford you the chance to have the ball in your stick a ton but Malcom settled into his role as the third right-hand shot on the Bandits offence and was able to create space for his point-producing teammates. I grew to like Malcom more and more as the season went on and I think he could have more impact offensively if given more opportunity. With that being said, the New Westminster, BC native has tallied 36 points in 16 games to date.

9. (8) Mitch de Snoo (D) – Buffalo Bandits
1-7-8 – 8 PIM – 96 LB – 14 S – 22 CTO
de Snoo is one of the more underrated rookies in this year’s class. His play both on the back end and in transition has helped the Bandits to sit in first place in the East Division and have a chance at first overall in the league. A big-bodied player who runs the floor well, makes good decisions with the ball and can finish when the opportunity presents itself, de Snoo has certainly made his mark on the Bandits roster. de Snoo has been even better in his own zone. Providing solid one-on-one defence along with overall team defence, de Snoo’s aggressive style of D has allowed the Oshawa, Ontario native to create 22 turnovers while also scooping up 96 loose balls. Expect de Snoo to be an integral part of the Bandits’ defence corps moving forward.

10. (HM) Jordan Gilles (D) – Colorado Mammoth
7-1-8 – 4 PIM – 64 LB – 19 S – 15 CTO
Gilles frequently appeared in the Rookie Rankings early on in the 2016 season but as his production slowed down, he kind of fell off the radar a little. While that is really no slight to Gilles as the 2016 rookie class is arguably one of the best ever, the 6th-round pick did hit a bit of a rookie wall during the middle section of the season. Still, Gilles’ aggressive on-ball defence and elite foot speed allowed him to find success over and over again. Through 16 games the Delta, BC native has racked up 7 goals and 1 assist for 8 points, along with 64 loose balls and 15 caused turnovers.
Honourable Mentions

Dan Taylor (LF) – Saskatchewan Rush
Reilly O’Connor (LF) – Calgary Roughnecks
Dan Lintner (RF) – Toronto Rock
Tyson Bell (D) – Calgary Roughnecks

Rookies who made their NLL Debut in 2016 – Adam Will (BUF), Tyler Ferreira (BUF), Kellen LeClair (CGY), Christian Del Bianco (CGY), Bryce Sweeting (COL), Josh Sullivan (COL), Reid Acton (GA), Michael Seidel (GA), Mike MacDonald (NE), Pete Rennie (NE), Adam Bomberry (ROC), Brad Gillies (ROC), Ty Thompson (ROC), Derek Searle (ROC), Luc Magnan (TOR), Kyle Aquin (TOR), Turner Evans (TOR), Mark Farthing (TOR), Keegan Bal (VAN), Thomas Hoggarth (VAN), Ryan Wagner (VAN), Brier Jonathan (VAN).

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