Two weeks into the 2017 National Lacrosse League season and we take our first look at the rookie class. While the 2016 draft didn’t quite have the depth of big name talent that the 2015 draft possessed, as you’ll see shortly there is certainly no shortage of rookie talent lining the rosters of the league’s nine teams.
The Bandits didn’t have any rookies on their initial active roster. Free agent signee Blaze Riorden did get activated and dressed for the season opener, though, while Daryl Veltman was with his wife for the birth of their child. Riorden previously had made a name for himself in the field game, where he stared as a goaltender with the University of Albany. Riorden didn’t look out of place in his NLL debut during opening weekend, picking up one assist, although he did look as though he was still adjusting to both the pace of the NLL and his forward position. Riorden gained valuable box lacrosse experience suiting up for Team USA at the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championships, where he tallied 12 points in five appearances.
2016 draft picks Kevin Orleman and Justin Martin have secured practice roster spots with the Bandits. With Orleman’s position as the club’s third goaltender behind veteran Anthony Cosmo and Davide DiRuscio, we shouldn’t expect to see too much of Orleman this season. However, Justin Martin, who was the club’s 2016 second rounder (13th overall) should see himself taking to the floor with the Bandits in a regular season game sooner rather than later.
Unlike the Bandits, Calgary did have a first-round pick in the most recent NLL draft. The Roughnecks used their fifth-overall pick to select one of their very own, Holden Cattoni. A native of Calgary, Cattoni has been around the Roughnecks’ franchise for years, acting as the team’s ball boy back in its early days. Since then, Cattoni has thrived as a potent left-shot sniper, suiting up with the Peterborough Jr. Lakers and most recently the Lakers Major Series club, where he’s played under former Roughnecks superstar Tracey Kelusky. Cattoni looked confident in his NLL debut this past week, picking up a goal on five shots.
In addition to Cattoni, the Roughnecks also have 25-year-old rookie Chad Cummings on the active roster. Cummings suited up in Calgary’s opening game and was solid, picking up five loose balls while creating four turnovers in the Roughnecks 12-11 loss to Vancouver. Only one of Calgary’s three practice roster players are rookies and that is 2016 third-round pick Keegan Rittinger, who was selected out of the Coquitlam Adanacs program. Meanwhile, 2016 second round pick Vaughan Harris currently sits on the physically unable to perform list but should find himself on the active roster when healthy.
The Mammoth entered the 2015 draft with just three picks at their disposal and none early on. They still managed to emerge from the draft with two players that would spend the vast majority of the 2016 season on the active roster in Jordan Gilles and Bryce Sweeting. This year, the Mammoth traded up to get a first round pick, which they used to select Zach Herreweyers. The former Peterborough Lakers/Brampton Excelsiors junior scoring sensation hadn’t been active in the box lacrosse scene last summer and that may have played into his inability to crack the Mammoth’s active roster despite his talent level.
While Colorado’s top pick from the 2016 draft currently occupies a practice roster spot, along side rookies Nick Ossello and Brent Adams, the Mammoths fourth-round pick has earned an active roster spot. Taylor Stuart saw action in the Mammoth’s Week 1 victory over the Buffalo Bandits and while he didn’t stand out, that’s not exactly a bad thing as the stay-at-home defender was strong in his role. Rookie free agent signee Jacob Ruest also cracked Colorado’s active roster and has made an immediate impact offensively, tallying four points in his first two games, providing quality depth offensively.
The Swarm were one of the most exciting teams to watch last season and much of that was due to their young core, headlined by a quartet of high-end rookies in Lyle Thompson, Jesse King, Chad Tutton and Randy Staats. This season sees more of the same as five rookies occupy spots on Georgia’s active roster, while two rookies find themselves biding their time on the club’s practice roster. Last season Georgia went offence-heavy in the draft; this year they flipped the switch, focusing on transition and the defensive side of the ball.
Georgia made former Burlington Chiefs transition star Bryan Cole the fourth-overall selection in the 2016 draft and followed that by taking rugged defender Connor Sellars out of the Brampton Excelsiors program. Cole and Sellars are joined on the active roster by fellow defenders Leo Stouros, Sean Young and Liam Byrnes. In the Swarm’s opener all but Byrnes saw action, while Cole was able to tally his first NLL goal in Georgia’s win. Sellars and Stouros acclimated themselves well to the NLL game and should have no problem becoming anchors to the club’s back end for seasons to come. Meanwhile, Young was effective in a transition role.
New England Black Wolves
New England opens the 2017 season with three rookies on the active roster, two of whom were selected in the 2016 NLL draft. Seth Oakes was the Black Wolves’ first-round pick, eighth overall. While he didn’t see action in New England’s opener, the native of Akwesasne, New York will surely be counted on to produce offensively at some point this season. Oakes has scored and scored in bunches at every level he’s competed. While he may not have played at the highest level as most of the others in this year’s rookie class did, Oakes is every bit as talented and it won’t take long for people unfamiliar with his game to find that out.
Joining Oakes on the active roster is free agent transition player Matt Spanger. He has emerged as an intriguingly athletic player over the past couple of years, showing steady improvement with MSL’s Brampton Excelsiors, the Sr B Brooklin Merchants and CLax’s Southwest Cyclops. Highly-touted goaltender Doug Jamieson completes the trio of rookies on the Black Wolves’ active roster. While Jamieson is expected to back up veteran Evan Kirk, don’t be shocked to see the Black Wolves show confidence in their talented rookie netminder and afford him some starts throughout the season.
The Knighthawks look to be amidst a roster overhaul and youngsters are certainly benefiting from that: four rookies currently occupy active roster spots in Rochester. Many may have wondered why the Knighthawks went somewhat off the board with the seventh selection in the most recent draft. Kyle Jackson’s 11-point outburst in Week 2 seems to have quieted that conversation. Jackson wasn’t necessarily bad in Week 1, and he was certainly confident, firing 15 shots at the goal. He was simply unable to produce offence. With his 11 points against New England, though, Jackson now not only leads Rochester in scoring through two games but also sits third overall in league scoring.
Jackson is joined on the Rochester offence by fellow rookies Dan Lomas, Wayne Van Every and Josh Currier. Lomas and Currier were 2016 NLL draft picks, while Van Every is a feel good story as he surprisingly cracked the active roster after years of floating around as a free agent. Van Every last saw his name grace an NLL roster back in 2011 when he was on Buffalo’s practice roster, but he never got into a regular season game. In two games this season Van Every has tallied 2 goals and an assist, providing Rochester with the scoring depth they’ll need to compete. Meanwhile, Currier has effortlessly adjusted to the NLL game, making an immediate impact on the right side of Rochester’s offence, sitting second in team scoring with 7 points. After being a scratch in Week 1’s disappointing lost to Toronto, Lomas got his shot in Week 2 and did not disappoint, recording 2 goals and 2 assists along with 7 loose balls, all but ensuring he’ll remain a constant in the club’s lineup.
When looking at their roster at the end of last season, one would have found it hard to believe three rookies would find themselves on the two-time defending champions’ active roster in Week 1 of 2017. That’s exactly what happened when the Rush took to the floor in Georgia last weekend. First-overall pick Ryan Keenan and third-overall pick Mike Messenger both were able to make immediate impacts at their respective ends of the floor. Keenan recorded a goal and an assist while Messenger brought his usual physical and sturdy brand of defence.
The third member of Saskatchewan’s rookie trio is 2016 14th-overall pick Matt Hossack, who surprisingly slipped out of the draft’s first round despite a very strong MSL season with the Brooklin Redmen. While Hossack didn’t get into the Rush active lineup in their opening game, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he’ll be there in the near future, even with players returning from suspension in the upcoming week.
Toronto went an unusual route this summer, signing a couple of American field players to contracts. While it’s not unusual for some NLL teams to do so, it’s something the Toronto Rock haven’t done often in the past. However it’s seemed to pay off, at least after Week 1’s performance. Tom Schreiber was very good for the Rock in their win over Rochester, recording three assists. Most impressive was just how comfortable he looked in his first career regular season game. If Schreiber can continue to build on that effort, the Rock have a real steal on their hands. Fellow American Kieran McArdle picked up a goal and two assists in the Rock win.
Joining the American rookies are three defenders in second-overall pick Challen Rogers, Latrell Harris and Jordan Magnuson. While Rogers is the highly-touted rookie on the roster, Magnuson may have been the most impressive of the three 2016 draft picks, at least during Week 1 action. Magnuson was strong in his own zone and contributed offensively. The Rock were in dire need of a youthful injection and while one week is a small sample size, the sample was impressive.
The Stealth had just four picks in the 2016 draft, and none of those picks find themselves on the active roster. Like Toronto, though, two American field players earned active roster spots and thrived in their debuts. Thomas McKee and Brandon Fowler both suited up during Week 2 of NLL action. McKee did see action in just the 12-11 win in Calgary, however provided a goal and two assists. Fowler played in both games and was an effective presence, scooping fourteen loose balls over the weekend.
James Rahe was the Stealth’s highest pick in the 2016 draft and while he should find himself on the active roster at some point this season, for now he is on the injured reserve.