I’ve done the North and East, so today we’ll preview the West division.
Considering they’re the reigning NLL champs, it’s not surprising that the Roughnecks didn’t make many roster changes. Captain Dan MacRae was taken in the expansion draft by New York, Riley Loewen signed with the Warriors, and Reece Callies and Rhys Duch are both injured. That’s it. In their place are Marshal King (Jesse’s brother), Haiden Dickson (no relation to Curtis), Liam LeClair (brother of former Roughneck Kellen LeClair), and Ryan Martel (not related to anyone in the NLL so far as I know). Martel played 15 games over the last two seasons for Calgary but is still only 21, and the other three are rookies.
When you win it all one year and change very little, you’re generally among the favourites the next year. To be the best, you have to beat the best, right? No reason to believe the Roughnecks won’t be in the hunt again this season.
Look out for
It would surprise precisely nobody if Jesse King had a monster year so I’ll go out on a limb and say… Jesse King.
First in the west.
Colorado lost a few big names in the offseason – Cory Vitarelli, Jeremy Noble, Brad Self, and Ian Llord are all gone. Noble had a terrible season, and the other three played six games each with the Mammoth, so the losses aren’t really that devastating. But other than Tyler Carlson, brought in to replace backup goalie Steve Fryer, all the new guys are really new guys – NLL newbs.
The defense and transition is much the same, which is good news since only the Bandits gave up fewer goals than the Mammoth last year. Dillon Ward is back though as I said, Tyler Carlson will be backing him up instead of Steve Fryer. Ward will still take the majority of starts but Carlson is a veteran backup so the Mammoth aren’t in trouble if Ward falters. Offense was the Mammoth’s weak point last year – only one team gave up fewer goals, but only one team (the Warriors) scored fewer as well. With all the turnover in the offense, I hope the rookies play well or this could be a long season.
Look out for
That Killen kid impressed a lot of people last year, with 49 points in 15 games. With Noble, Keogh, and Adams all gone, Killen will be asked to take on a bigger role on the right side this season. He could be really good.
Fourth in the west.
San Diego Seals
Lots of turnover in the Seals camp as well. Gone are Dan Dawson, Turner Evans, Garrett Billings, Joe Walters, Paul Dawson, Kyle Hartzell, Tyler Carlson, and Adrian Sorichetti. Austin Staats and Casey Jackson begin the season on the IR. Sounds terrible, right? It may not be so bad. Joining the Seals are Wes Berg, Jeremy Noble, Zack Greer, Mike Carnegie, and Evan Messenger, so all is not lost in SoCal. They still have Kyle Buchanan, Connor Kearnan, and Connor Fields and while Fields only played in two games last year due to injuries, he finished fourth in points and second in goals in the PLL over the summer. Could he be the next field-star-becomes-box-star à la Tom Schreiber? That may be optimistic but I think we can count on him for a lot more than the five points he contributed last year. Assuming Greer can shake off the rust after his year of retirement and Noble turns back into the real Jeremy Noble and not the guy who couldn’t score last year, the Seals may still have a pretty good offense, made even better when Jackson and Staats return.
Frank Scigliano holds down the fort in net again, though his backup is Nick Damude, who has no NLL experience. The defense and transition corps consists of a pretty good mix of vets and rookies but one of the vets is lacrosse legend Brodie Merrill, and if you’re a rookie defender, there aren’t many guys you want to learn from more than Brodie.
Last year, I said that if everything works out for the Seals, they could be a very good team. Well, everything worked out and they were a very good team. I’m not sure this year’s Seals are better than last year’s but if everything works out, they won’t be far off.
Look out for
Wes Berg will be itching to prove that he is worth the money Calgary didn’t want to pay him, so I see a big year for him.
Third in the west.
Good news for the Rush: Ryan Dilks and Jeff Cornwall are back! (Well, Cornwall isn’t quite but will be soon.) Bad news: they lost Nik Bilic, Brett Mydske, and Curtis Knight. Good news: they’re such a deep team that they’ll still be great. Bad news: So will Calgary.
Losing Curtis Knight will hurt the Rush, both more than you might think – because he was an important piece of their offense – and less then you might think – because they’re so deep. 2018 5th overall draft pick Connor Robinson will see more playing time, and guys like Ryan Keenan and Marty Dinsdale will get some more minutes to make up for the loss of Knight.
The Rush defense has been their strong point for years and while losing Mydske will hurt, getting Dilks back will make up for that. Jeff Cornwall will likely score more than Bilic would have but Bilic was a fan favourite known for his grit and toughness (and, yes, fights) more than his goal-scoring.
Look out for
Marty Dinsdale has been one of those “under the radar” sort of guys for years, but the weird thing is how everyone talks about the fact that nobody talks about him. Dinsdale will take over some of Curtis Knight’s role and we might see his point totals increase.
Second in the west.
No blockbuster trades for the Warriors this off-season, but they did make a couple of significant moves. Signing Nik Bilic is huge. He brings “sandpaper” (as Teddy Jenner put it) to the team, and he’s a veteran who’s won Championships, and you can never have too many of those. And the Warriors don’t have many of those. Another vet defender who wasn’t there last year is Chris O’Dougherty, another guy who brings grit and toughness to the Vancouver back end.
The front end isn’t hugely different, with Riley Loewen taking over for Tony Malcom. Keegan Bal stepped up his game big-time last season, so he’ll be expected to continue his strong play, and Mitch Jones is also coming off of his best season. Other than those two and Malcom, only Logan Schuss and Jordan McBride had more than twenty points last year. The Warriors scored the fewest goals of any team in 2019, so some more scoring up front and in transition wouldn’t be unwelcome.
Eric Penney and Aaron Bold split time between the pipes last year, and both are back again this year. Will Penney finally take his spot as the #1 starter, a position the Warriors (and Stealth before them) seem to have been saving for him for years, or will he continue to fight Bold for that spot? The team is probably fine either way – competition between the two isn’t a bad thing, but if Penney plays well enough to grab that spot for himself, so much the better.
Look out for
Similar to Curtis Knight stepping out from behind the Rush’s top three, Riley Loewen is expected to be one of the top scorers instead of playing behind them.
Fifth in the west.