It didn’t look the same, it didn’t sound the same, draft day negotiations were held in an atypical fashion, but the 2020 NLL Entry Draft provided the familiar sense of excitement, surprise, and intrigue that we are have grown accustomed to over the years.
Following the expected 1st overall selection of Jeff Teat going to the New York Riptide, the draft was filled with storylines including significant trades, players dropping below expectations, teams leaving undeniable footprints of their strategy, and Americans becoming ever-more present box prospects.
With one of the earliest draft day trades in league history, the Vancouver Warriors wasted no time asserting themselves by trading their 3rd pick to the Rochester Knighthawks to grab the 2nd pick. This was done to capture Reid Bowering, a multi-talented, imposing defenseman, who will likely bolster the team’s back-end for years to come. It appeared, unsurprisingly, that many teams were eager to get their hands on an impeccable specimen like Bowering, which pushed the Warriors to make their move.
“We are excited to draft Reid today,” Warriors GM Dan Richardson said. “Reid is a generational-talent on defense and is one of those hybrid players that can excel at both ends of the floor. We cannot wait for Reid to join our franchise and have an immediate impact on our team and the NLL.”
Interestingly, Bowering is also one of many draftees heading back to university for the final year of NCAA-eligibility after the COVID-19 virus canceled the 2020 collegiate season. In fact, all of the Top-5 draft picks (and most of the 1st round) will be headed back to campus this coming spring semester if the season is not canceled again. That means highly touted future NLL stars such as Teat, Ryan Smith, Tre Leclair, Tanner Cook, and Jeff Henrick won’t be trading in their school colors for NLL uniforms in the 2021-2022 season.
In the case of players like Henrick, he fell further than many of the draft experts expected. Hernick’s drop as well as many of the night’s pick were likely influenced by the Bowering trade. The upcoming college season can be used to prove to teams that they made a grave mistake. Other noticeable drop-offs include Jordan Stouros, who fell to the middle of the 2nd round – he was projected by many to be picked in the late 1st round – and the athletic, 6’6” mountain of a man, Ty Thompson, who also fell to the middle of the 2nd round despite being considered by many to be a first-round selection.
But no player fell as far as Penn State University’s Grant Ament. Ament was eventually grabbed by the New England Black Wolves with the 65th pick of the draft, but not before his college teammates Mac O’Keefe and Dylan Foulds were chosen by the San Diego Seals and Philadelphia Wings, respectively, much earlier in the night. Ament was widely believed to go in the 2nd round of the draft. To see him fall to late in the 4th round raised a few eyebrows. However, if Ament is fully committed to a full-time career in the NLL after he has finished his time at PSU, he has the skillset to become an elite talent, making him one of the biggest steals in this draft.
“We were focusing on offense in this draft,” Black Wolves Head Coach and GM said. We think Ament and Michael Sowers have a very high skill set that can translate to the NLL game.”
Other moves that turned some heads were initiated by Rochester Knighthawks. This was due to sheer boldness. The Knighthawks finished the night having made five trades. The swapping involved everything from 2020 draft picks, players, and future picks. Sitting at 2-10 when the league came to an abrupt halt, GM Dan Carey understood the team needed a makeover. One of the most notable trades they made was the acquisition of the Buffalo Bandits Matt Gilray in exchange for the 19th overall selection, a 2021 1st round pick and a 2023 2nd round pick. Stealing away a former divisional foe will hopefully help to turn the tide in the Knighthawks favor.
“We had some needs we wanted to address,” Knighthawks GM Dan Carey said. “We felt the players we were fortunate enough to acquire were a great fit for us and what we wanted to accomplish coming out of the draft.”
While the Knighthawks were looking to shake things up, teams like the Seals and Halifax Thunderbirds set about fulfilling their teams’ needs. In the 1st round, the Seals didn’t mess around, quickly grabbing dynamic, athletic offensive playmakers and scorers like The Ohio State University-product Tre Leclair and Penn State’s Mac O’Keefe. Even though both will be returning to school, they will be an instant headache for defenses when they finally break into the NLL.
As for the Thunderbirds, they shored their back-end up by drafting the intimidating and scrappy Ethan Riggs, trading for veteran Roughnecks defenceman Tyson Bell and taking one of the fastest players in this year’s draft, transition player Ethan Ticehurst.
We were trying to shore up our defense with young talented defenders,” Thunderbirds Head Coach Mike Accursi said. “We did that tonight. Riggs, Bell, Ryan Terefenko, and Owen Friesen are all fantastic young, big defenders that will solidify our defense’s strength for years to come.”
One of the biggest takeaways from the night became clearer as fewer men were left to be chosen: Americans are quickly becoming a larger segment of the NLL community. A game that has long been marshaled by the Iroquois and Canadians; US players are no longer an outlier. In this year’s draft, high-profile Americans included O’Keefe, Michael Sowers, Charlie Kitchen, and Byran Costabile, and had a handful of other capable talents from coast to coast. USBOXLA continues to spread the game across America while Canadian players do their part by showing off box skills when they come to the states to play the field game. The ever-growing U.S. box participation is direct proof that the game is rapidly growing in untraditional markets.
There are many storylines to be taken from this memorable night. Every team spent weeks preparing for draft day and sweated through each pick to better each of their teams. This draft will be remembered for numerous reasons, from the virtual production to the surprising picks – a few of which have been covered – as is the case every year, the real impact of what occurred at the 2020 NLL Entry Draft will be seen in the months, years, and even decades ahead. That, after all, is the beauty of the draft.