CALGARY, AB — Talent galore.
That pretty much sums up the feeling of most general managers in regards to the 2015 National Lacrosse League Draft that was held on Sept. 28 at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre in Oakville, Ont.
After selecting nine players in six rounds at the draft, Calgary Roughnecks GM Mike Board left with loads of confidence that several of those players could step right in and play this season.
He was right.
“We had to get younger,” said Board. “It’s partly by design and partly by people moving on in their lives and making decisions. We have to move on and adjust.”
The retirement of Andrew McBride and Geoff Snider combined with the off-season departures of Shawn Evans, Daryl Veltman and Jeff Moleski left several spots for rookies to fill on the Roughnecks’ roster.
“Watching the games so far, I think there’s a lot of positive and exciting pieces,” said McBride, who has enjoyed being a fan after playing a franchise record 198 games and 29 more in the post-season over 13 seasons for the Roughnecks. “It takes a while for everybody to jell together. You lost a lot of games played in guys like myself, Moleski, Evy, Veltman and Snider. You can’t really replicate experience. There’s like 1,000 man games played in the NLL.”
Forward Wesley Berg, who the Riggers selected fourth overall, has stepped right in and made an immediate impact with three goals and six assists in three games.
“You can see the talent he has in his shot,” said McBride. “He’s a very smart lacrosse player. You’re going to see him get more confident. There’s no doubt in my mind and the fans should know that Wesley Berg is going to score 40 or 50 goals for the Calgary Roughnecks. It’s good to see him get his feet under him and he’s only going to get stronger and stronger as the year goes on.”
McBride also had high praise for defenceman Tyson Bell, who was chosen in the third round, 24th overall, by Calgary last September.
“He’s ran the floor very well,” said McBride. “He’s been solid in his own end. I think he’s made more good plays than he has bad plays. He’s going to be a great player. He’s shown very well and I think the future’s very bright for him.”
Forward Reilly O’Connor (1st round, 7th overall) has also made an impact with two assists in three games, while defenceman Kellen LeClair (3rd round, 25th overall) hasn’t looked out of place on the back end while chipping in with his first NLL goal during Calgary’s 9-8 road win over the New England Black Wolves on Jan. 15.
“That’s a team effort, so the GM can’t take all the credit,” said Board in regards to how the rookies have fit right in. “There’s a lot of people involved in how we selected in the draft. We feel that it was a very good draft for us and we’re happy with the way these guys are developing and we feel that there’s an upside with all those guys. That’s where that optimism comes that you get better each week. As long as you’re headed up the hill and doing the right things, you’re going to be successful.”
Although he has yet to play a regular season game for the Riggers, goalie Christian Del Bianco (2nd round, 15th overall) looked good during the pre-season and has pushed veterans Frankie Scigliano and Mike Poulin in practice.
“I think the future is bright,” predicted McBride. “I think with the three goalies on the roster, it’s the best goaltending in the league, which is something that’s absolutely key in lacrosse. That’s something that’s going to be really, really set for a long time.”
As for this season, Board is looking forward to seeing veterans like Dane Dobbie, Jeff Shattler, Curtis Dickson and new captain Mike Carnegie lead the way and for the rookies to continue their progression.
“There are a little bit of growing pains, but we feel that we’re heading in the right direction,” he said. “Our defence has been playing extremely well. Frankie’s been really good in net and the special teams have been pretty good. With a younger group I suppose the philosophy is that each week you want to get a little bit better and I think we have that opportunity.”
Following a bye week, the ’Necks will return to action at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday, Jan. 30 (7 p.m.) when they host the Vancouver Stealth.