Kevin Crowley, the top overall pick in the 2011 NLL Entry Draft, has helped the Philadelphia Wings reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. (Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo)
Highly touted rookies have helped Philadelphia and Colorado get back in the playoffs. They’ve also provided infusions of energy in Rochester and Minnesota.
While longtime veterans including John Grant Jr., Garrett Billings, and Dan Dawson have been piling up the points, a group of first-year players have made their presence felt with the regular season coming to a close this weekend.
First up in Philadelphia, Kevin Crowley has lived up to the billing that comes with being the top overall pick.
The Stony Brook product burst on the pro indoor scene with three goals and five assists during the Wings’ loss to Rochester in his NLL debut, earning the first of three Rookie of the Week awards. The hat trick would also be the first of seven registered by Crowley, who leads all first-year players with 36 goals.
While Philadelphia is in the postseason for the first time since 2008, Crowley’s production has slipped some over the past two games – he’s recorded a goal and two assists on a total of nine shots on goal in losses to Buffalo and Minnesota. Head coach and general manager Johnny Mouradian isn’t worried and thinks his young star needs more opportunities to score.
Simply put – shoot, shoot and when in doubt, shoot again.
“Kevin is having a fantastic first year,” Mouradian said. “I think last game (a 15-10 loss to the Swarm), he only took four shots and he needs to take eight to 10 shots every game. We need to put him into a position to take more shots.
“We talked after last game. He is physically fit, he’s got energy, he’s strong. A couple of games there he was forcing some outside shots because he had had some success with some outside shots and I think last game he pulled up a little bit.”
While Crowley has been prolific at filling up the net, Colorado’s Adam Jones could make a case that he’s had the better all-around season.
The Canisius product was taken two picks after Crowley, and helped the Mammoth get off to a 6-0 start after the club went 5-11 a year ago. Jones leads all rookies with 45 assists and 73 points – six more than Crowley.
Not bad for a player who tore an anterior cruciate ligament just over a year ago and was diligent in his rehab.
“We talked to Adam before the draft (and) after the draft about being patient, and he’s going to be here for a long, long time. We want him to have a great career here and we want to do right by his body,” Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley said.
Playing alongside Grant, who’s six points shy of becoming the NLL’s single-season scoring leader heading into the final regular-season game of 2012, has certainly helped Jones. However, it’s been Jones’ ability to adapt to the indoor game that caught Hamley’s eye.
Production hasn’t been an issue. Jones piled up 11 goals and nine assists in his first three games, and was named the league’s Rookie of the Month in January and March.
“Right out of the gate, he played outstanding,” Hamley said. “He’s one of the reasons we’re 11-4.”
The Knighthawks used the second overall pick last September to take Syracuse’s Stephen Keogh then sent Shawn Evans to Calgary for the fifth pick, which was used to tab Johnny Powless from Six Nations, Ontario.
Both moves have worked out quite well.
Keogh is third among rookies with 30 assists and 52 points, and he’s tied with Jones for the lead with eight power-play goals. Meanwhile, the 19-year-old Powless is tied for third with 25 goals while amassing 47 points. He is a three-time Rookie of the Week award winner including after Weeks 14 and 15, when he totaled six goals and eight assists.
“They’ve been playing well all year and they keep getting better every game, every time they step on the floor,” Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen said. “I think it’s guys getting comfortable with them as well. They’re doing the right things that we’re asking them and getting the looks that we need.”
In Minnesota, it’s been a group effort from their youngsters that has them thinking about a title.
Jordan MacIntosh, selected just before Powless, has emerged as one of the bright young transition players with 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) and 140 loose balls. Jay Card, the reigning Rookie of the Week, has scored seven of his 12 goals on the power play.
The Swarm also have two of the better netminders in the league. Evan Kirk enters Week 17 with an NLL-low 9.81 goals-against average and Tyler Carlson is fourth with an 11.90 GAA.