I imagine the last few weeks have been a nightmare for NLL GMs, and the next couple won’t be much better. The second expansion draft in two years is coming up in a couple of weeks so each GM had to go through their roster and choose eleven players to protect, knowing they could lose anyone not on that list. Then you need to call more than half of your players and tell them they’re not protected. Then you will lose two of them and need to adjust your team afterwards. Luckily they have five months or so before the season starts to do that. Just like last year’s draft, some GMs will have some big holes to fill after the draft, others might barely notice the difference.
The list of protected players was released early this week and there are a few surprises on there. Some of the surprises are explained by free agency and the concept of franchise players: an unrestricted free agent who is old enough to reject the franchise player tag is unlikely to be chosen. He may choose not to sign with the team that chose him and so that team has basically wasted a draft pick.
Other surprises are explained by “insider” knowledge that certain players do not want to change teams, and that those players have built up enough respect over their years in the league that those requests (stated or unstated) are honoured. For example, it’s fairly well known that Jeff Shattler has no interest in playing for an Eastern-based team, or likely anyone other than Saskatchewan. He’s not protected by the Rush but unlikely to be chosen, except possibly if a team picks him and then immediately trades him back to the Rush, similar to Brett Mydske last year.
And still other surprises are just surprises.
Here are my choices for players who might be chosen from each team. Note that wording: “my choices”. These are the players that I would choose if I were the GM of the Riptide or Knighthawks. These are not predictions for who will be chosen; there are likely many other considerations that I’m not aware of (the “insider” knowledge I mentioned above). It’s quite possible that other players I list below are in similar situations to Shattler but less widely known. I also don’t know the free agency status of all the players, so some of my picks may be unlikely because they are UFAs.
We’ll start in the east and move our way west.
Buffalo: It’s hard to imagine any GM not grabbing Shawn Evans if there is any way to add him to your team for free. I assumed he was in the UFA / non-franchisable camp but he won’t be 34 until next April (and he’s not a free agent anyway), so the Riptide or the Knighthawks could pick him and franchise him. He’s the best example of the surprise that’s just a surprise I mentioned above. The other player I can’t imagine being passed on is Corey Small though if you don’t like my goalie choices below, Zach Higgins would be good too.
Georgia: The Swarm are so deep in offense that they could leave Holden Cattoni unprotected and still have a scary top five. He is likely the first pick from Georgia. For the second, I’d go with either John Ranagan (veteran defender) or Connor Sellars (young defender). Which one is picked likely depends on who else they’ve already picked and if they decide they need more veteran leadership. Since I have to pick one, I’ll go with Sellars.
Halifax: Chris Boushy was traded to Rochester (who became Halifax after the season – the Rochester Knighthawks team that’s picking in the entry draft is a different team) (yes it’s weird and confusing) in the middle of last season and made an immediate impact, scoring seven goals in his Knighthawks debut. He only scored seven more in his next seven games, but there’s still a lot of upside to Boushy, who is only 21. The next name I’d go to is Stephen Keogh, but he was injured for half of last season so I’m not sure of his status. After that are Sid Smith, who was injured for all of last season, Angus Goodleaf, whose first year being a starting goaltender wasn’t a huge success, and a bunch of very young players. I’ll pick Eric Fannell since he has a bit of NLL experience.
New England: Tyler Digby had a huge rebound season last year, picking up an almost-career-best 72 points in 17 games (he had 74 in 18 games in 2015), so he’d be my first choice from the Black Wolves. Second would be either David Brock or Greg Downing, both well-respected veteran defenders. Brock’s a couple of years younger so we’ll go with him.
Philadelphia: Vaughn Harris and Frank Brown are the two best choices here. The third would be Jordan Hall though I’m not sure of his UFA status. He is 34, so non-franchisable.
Toronto: Kieran McArdle would be a great fit for New York since he lives on Long Island. The other Rock player I’d probably go for would be Reid Reinholdt, though the fact that he missed all of 2019 with an injury is concerning. Perhaps speedy transition guy Damon Edwards would be a better choice.
Calgary: Rhys Duch is the obvious choice but (1) he lives in Victoria, BC and is unlikely to want to play for an Eastern team, and (2) he got injured in the WLA a few weeks ago and from all accounts, may miss some or all of the upcoming NLL season. Thus Duch is unlikely to be going anywhere. Greg Harnett is another veteran defender – I don’t know where he lives now but he’s from Ontario so it’s possible he’d be open to playing for an eastern-based team. Similarly, Chad Cummings is an Ontario boy and someone looking for a big body (6’5″) to add to their defense could do far worse.
Colorado: I haven’t taken any goalies yet but Steve Fryer is definitely one that will get serious looks from both the Riptide and Knighthawks. He’s been a solid backup who is ready to take the next step, and there’s no bigger team guy in the NLL. He’s also got a possible broadcasting career in his future since you can hear him from either the bench or the crease on just about every Mammoth broadcast. The other player I’d take from Colorado is Jeremy Noble. Yes he had a terrible year in 2019, scoring only five goals in eleven games (two in his first, three in his last, and none for four months in between) and averaging well over a point per game below his career average. But Noble is too good a player to continue with those kinds of numbers and a change of scenery will likely do wonders, as will the confidence boost that would come from Regy Thorpe or Dan Carey saying “We want you on our team”.
San Diego: Dan Dawson has been the first-overall pick in three different dispersal drafts but has never been picked in an expansion draft, likely because he’s always been protected. Not this time. He did a great job with the expansion Seals last season, so it’s possible that New York or Rochester tries to drink from that well again this year. But Dawson turns 38 just as the season starts so that may be a long shot two years in a row. Paul Dawson is only 33 so he’ll get a look but I’ve listed lots of veteran D-guys above. Turner Evans is only 25 and has shown promise over the last two years. Marcus Holman didn’t play for the Seals last year but is a standout field player from the east coast, so the Riptide may decide to give him a shot, maybe pairing him up with fellow field lacrosse star Kieran McArdle. As for me, I’d probably take Evans and maybe Brandon Clelland to be my faceoff guy.
Saskatchewan: Shocking news: there are many great players available from the Rush. Marty Dinsdale is one of those unsung heroes that everybody thinks is underrated and would love to see on their team. Curtis Knight is a versatile player who can do whatever you need him to do. There are not one but two Cornwalls to choose from, and Adam Shute stepped in when Evan Kirk got hurt last season and did an outstanding job. Seeing as how I’ve only picked one goalie so far, I’ll go with Shute and Dinsdale.
Update: I think I knew but forgot that Shute is a PhD student in Calgary. While it may be possible to transfer to a different school, it’d be a huge pain. I imagine balancing the work of being a med student and playing pro lacrosse is enough of a pain as it is, so Shute will likely not be picked. I’ll change that pick to Jeff Cornwall. For the second goalie, I’d probably go with either Higgins from Buffalo or Kevin Orleman from Georgia.
Vancouver: I’ve been a big fan of Joel McCready’s game for a few years, but he missed most of last year with an injury. If he’s recovered, I’m taking him. Beyond that, well, the pickin’s are kinda slim and just about everyone lives in BC so they may not want to play for eastern teams. Ian Hawksbee is from Ontario but he’s <sarcasm>really old</sarcasm> (36). Jean-Luc Chetner is only 23 and had a decent rookie year so maybe I’ll take him and either McCready or Hawksbee.