The annual entry draft is one of the biggest days in the NLL off-season. Obviously each team is trying to improve by drafting players who they hope will contribute to their team for many years, but the fact that all the GMs get together in one place increases the possibility of trades and makes the day that much more interesting.
Drafted players in the NLL can make an immediate and significant contribution to the team that drafts them, much more so than in hockey where drafted players frequently need another year or two of seasoning before they’re ready for the NHL, and especially in baseball where a drafted player may not make the majors for five years or more, if ever. In lacrosse, it’s not unusual for a drafted player to be familiar with many of his teammates and opponents thanks to playing in the summer leagues. I imagine this helps the NLL GMs significantly, since they don’t have to wonder how the player will do against NLL-calibre opponents – they can see first-hand.
Every year, someone is given the honour and/or the curse of being drafted first overall. In this article, I list the last ten first-overall draft picks and with the advantage of hindsight, who the first overall pick should have been. Keep in mind that if the “hindsight pick” isn’t the same as the guy actually chosen first, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the GM screwed up and should have taken someone else. Players don’t always work out as well as was expected. Sometimes the player just didn’t make the transition to the NLL as smoothly as others, sometimes there were work commitments that meant the player had to miss significant time, sometimes there were injuries, and sometimes another player who wasn’t chosen first ended up exceeding the expectations of him.
First pick: Kevin Crowley, Philadelphia
Hindsight pick: Too early to say
It’s been said before that 2011 was the strongest draft in years, possibly ever, but here’s something that really drives the point home. Everyone drafted in the top two rounds of the 2011 draft saw playing time in the NLL in 2012. You have to go to the fourth pick of the third round – number 22 overall – before you get to a drafted player who did not play in 2012, that being Washington’s Adam McGourty.
Obviously with only a year behind them, it’s hard to say who’s the best of this amazing bunch. Adam Jones won Rookie of the Year, but Crowley, Jordan MacIntosh, or Evan Kirk easily could have.
First pick: Cody Jamieson, Rochester
Hindsight pick: Jamieson or Kyle Rubisch (2nd)
Kyle Rubisch is widely regarded as the best defender in the league, having been chosen as such in 2012 by both the league and IL Indoor. But Cody Jamieson is a legitimate offensive star, and given that he led the Knighthawks to the Champions Cup (and was named Championship Game MVP) in only his second season, you can’t say that the Knighthawks made a mistake drafting him.
First pick: Sid Smith, Rochester
Hindsight pick: Garrett Billings (6th), Stephen Leblanc (11th)
Sid Smith is a big, solid defender and like Jamieson, was instrumental in helping the Knighthawks to the 2012 Championship so again it’s kind of hard to say the Knighthawks made a big mistake here. But as good as Smith is, it’s tough to argue with Leblanc, the 2010 Rookie of the Year, and Billings, the current single-season assists holder and 2012 MVP runner-up, as being better choices.
First pick: Daryl Veltman, Boston
Hindsight pick: Rhys Duch (3rd)
Veltman had an excellent rookie season, scoring 77 points for the Blazers in 2009, and followed it up with 65 points in his sophomore season. He was then traded to the Roughnecks in the Josh Sanderson deal, but his 2011 season was not was the Roughnecks expected. Having picked up 43 and 42 assists in his first two seasons, the Roughnecks (and Veltman himself) were a little disappointed with the 42 points Veltman tallied in 2011. He rebounded a little in 2012 with another 42 assists and 62 points, so Veltman isn’t a bust by any definition. But IL Indoor named Rhys Duch the #1 player in the league at the beginning of the 2012 season, and the only reason he was below 85 points this past season (his first such season) was because he missed a couple of games. He ended up with a paltry 79 points in 14 games, which extrapolates to 90 over 16.
First pick: Jordan Hall, New York
Hindsight pick: Hall or Dane Dobbie (4th)
Hall has been one of the game’s better transition players since his debut with the New York Titans in 2008, and was given the NLL Sportsmanship Award in 2011. He’s played more of a defensive role in Rochester than he did in New York or Orlando, but was still an important part of the Knighthawks 2012 Championship season – or at least the first 2/3 of that season, before he tore a knee ligament and missed the last 6 games and the playoffs. Was he the best player in that draft year? Probably, though an argument could be made for Calgary’s Dane Dobbie, who only scored 7 points in his 5 games in 2008, but exploded for 75+ points in each of the next three years. He only scored 50 last season, but missed three games due to injury.
First pick: Ryan Benesch, San Jose
Hindsight pick: Benesch
This year had a great draft class – you could argue for Geoff Snider (4th) over Benesch, and this group also included Kyle Sorensen (2nd), Ian Llord (5th), Paul Dawson (7th), Athan Iannucci (8th) and Brendan Mundorf (11th). Benesch was drafted by the Stealth but was immediately traded to the Rock in the deal that sent Colin Doyle out west. Benny had a great rookie year (58 points and a Rookie of the Year award) but then dropped off a little in his second season, which concluded with his being inexplicably benched for the last two games of the year. After being benched again for the first two games of the 2009 season, Benesch was traded to the Edmonton Rush along with Derek Suddons for draft picks* in one of the most stupidly lopsided trades in Rock history. Benny’s numbers dropped a little more in 2009 before he was traded to the Swarm where he flourished, turning into one of the most potent scorers in the league and winning the scoring title in 2011.
* – One interesting footnote here: The Rock sent Colin Doyle to the Stealth for Ryan Benesch. (There were others involve in the trade, but it was essentially Doyle for Benesch.) When Benesch was traded to Edmonton two years later, one of the draft picks sent from the Rush to the Rock was a first-rounder in 2009. With that pick, the Rock selected Joel Dalgarno, who was later traded to the Stealth along with Tyler Codron and Lewis Ratcliff for – guess who? – Colin Doyle.
First pick: Brodie Merrill, Portland
Hindsight pick: Merrill
Another good group including Shawn Evans (2nd), Luke Wiles (4th), Matt Vinc (6th), and Jeff Zywicki (8th), but Merrill’s been Rookie of the Year, Defender of the Year, and Transition Player of the Year twice. He makes any team he’s on better, and has been considered one of the best players in the league since his first season.
First pick: Delby Powless, Buffalo
Hindsight pick: Rory Glaves (2nd), Ryan Boyle (3rd)
Powless entered the league with a lot of hype, mainly because he was the first overall pick. But part of the hype was the fact that he is part of the legendary Powless family. He played well, no question, racking up 40+ points in his first four seasons including 55 in 2008. But he never really lived up to what you might expect from the first overall pick, and after a substandard 2009 and only a single game in 2010, Powless was released by the Bandits and hasn’t played in the NLL since.
First pick: Mark Miyashita, Vancouver
Hindsight pick: Ryan Ward (3rd), Scott Evans (5th), Scott Ranger (7th)
Miyashita was a defenseman and faceoff guy who played a single season with the Ravens, one season with the Mammoth, and then parts of three seasons with the Swarm before calling it quits due to multiple injuries. Ward, Evans, and Ranger are still legitimate scoring threats and have luckily avoided the injury bug.
First pick: Patrick Merrill, Toronto
Hindsight pick: Mark Steenhuis (7th)
I like Patrick Merrill. I think he’s a hard worker, a good defender, and a pretty good fighter as well. But Mark Steenhuis is one of the best transition players of the last ten years. At one point I remember saying that there was nobody on the Rock that I wouldn’t trade for Steenhuis. Of course, this was when Doyle was in San Jose and the team was 6-10 while Steenhuis was lighting up the league, so that’s no longer true. But Steenhuis over Merrill is really a no-brainer.
I won’t go through all of the previous years, but a few names stand out as obvious hindsight picks.
- In 1996, Tim Langton was chosen first overall, while Cory Bomberry was taken third. Langton played three seasons with the New York Saints, while Bomberry played fourteen seasons with Rochester, Arizona, and Buffalo, winning a Championship with the Bandits in 2008.
- In 1993, John Webster was the first overall pick, taken by the Philadelphia Wings. Webster never played a game in the NLL while the New York Saints’ fourth overall pick, Mark Millon, played 96 games over ten years, ironically finishing his career with the Wings.
- Jim Buczek was the Pittsburgh Bulls’ first overall choice in 1992. Buczek’s pro career was limited to three games, while the Bandits had the sixth overall pick and drafted some guy named Tom Marechek. Obviously he never made much of an impression on the Bandits, since he was traded to Philadelphia before he ever played a game for Buffalo. He did OK in Philly though, where he won four championships over twelve seasons and is now in the NLL Hall of Fame.