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2023-24 Season Mega-Primer

Initial Power Rankings & Pre-Season Awards

We are almost there, folks. The start of the 2023-24 NLL Season is only two days away. There has been so much movement across the NLL landscape through signings, trades, retirements, coaching changes, conference realignment – you name it, and it’s happened.

To cap off the NLL Top 50 as voted on by the League’s coaches and GMs, here are their selections for the end of year awards and where they think each team lines up heading into Week 1 of the season. Let’s start of by diving right into the preseason power rankings.

 

Preseason Power Rankings

8. Rochester Knighthawks

Last season, Rochester surprised the box lacrosse world with their scorching, undefeated 6-0 run through the first eight weeks of the season. Fuelled by career years from so many of their players, including Holden Cattoni, Connor Fields, and Rylan Hartley between the pipes, the Knighthawks secured the franchise’s first-ever playoff berth, despite an underwhelming second half off the season.

Heading into the 2023-24 season, the Knighthawks will be without Cattoni and his 80+ points, traded to Philadelphia; veteran defensive leader Paul Dawson, picked up by Colorado in free agency; and 30-goal scorer Thomas Hoggarth, traded to Calgary.

At some point this season they will have key veteran replacements in 36-year-old forward Stephen Keogh and 33-year-old defenseman Greg Harnett, but they enter this season on the Physically Unable to Perform List and Injured Reserve List, respectively. They also have one of the most significant additions joining any team this season in 2022 first overall pick Thomas McConvey coming in for his rookie season.

After a 10-8 breakout year, do the Knighthawks have another playoff run in store for this season? The majority of their core offense and defense is back with the team and they’ll still have Hartley and Riley Hutchcraft as their netminders. You would imagine that the Knighthawks want to prove that last year’s record was not a fluke.

 

7. Georgia Swarm 

The Swarm were the hottest team in the NLL during the second half of the season. After a unexpected 0-7, then 2-8, start to the 2022-23 NLL Season, the Swarm turned their season around winning six of their last eight games, including six in a row, and just missed out on a playoff appearance. NLL Rookie of the Year candidate Brett Dobson played a significant role in the team’s turnaround and their offensive production skyrocketed in the second half.

Because of their success in the latter half of last season, the Swarm didn’t make many key adjustments over the offseason. Their most significant absences will be young defenseman Robert Hudson, forward Tanner Buck (who only played in one game last season), and back-up goaltender Craig Wende. Other than that, the gang is pretty much all back together.

You’ve got Lyle Thompson, Shayne Jackson and Andrew Kew back together as arguably one of the prolific offensive trios in the game and you have the same budding defensive core reunited for another for season to grow together. And with Dobson still between the pipes, everyone is familiar with each other and knows how to play as a complete unit.

On the bench, the Swarm added Andy Secore to join head coach Ed Comeau and assistant coach Sean Ferris. Secore will be working with the Swarm’s high-powered offense this season. Last season, the Swarm scored 219 goals during the regular season, which was tied for the fourth-best offensive production in the league.

6. Halifax Thunderbirds

The Thunderbirds feel like this needs to be their year to make a serious run at the NLL Cup. With exits in the first round of the playoffs for the last two seasons, this roster is poised to have a better final result in 2023-24. Players like Ryan Benesch (38 years old) and Cody Jamieson (36 years old) are hungry for a championship win. They have future hall of famers on offense, arguably the greatest and most versatile face-off guy ever in Jake Withers, a disciplined defense and transition game that has bone crushers such as Graeme Hossack and they have a talented goaltender in Warren Hill who is only a couple of years removed from an NLL Goaltender of the Year finalist nomination.

Jamieson, Randy Staats and Eric Fannell are on the Physically Unable to Perform List as of this writing, but that doesn’t mean they’re out for an extended period of time, necessarily. They will provide much needed depth and leadership when they are all back on the floor joining the likes of improving players such as Austin Shanks and Clarke Peterson.

It will also go a long way to have the defensive and transition corps back together for another full season. Almost all of their backend is in their mid-to-late 20s and are in their prime years – they also have a few younger pieces that should provide an extra boost of energy and athleticism.

 

5. Calgary Roughnecks 

The Calgary Roughnecks have an entirely new group leading the charge on the bench, but they are still the same ole’ Roughnecks of a year ago. With their new head coach and assistant GM Josh Sanderson, new associate coach & player personnel coordinator Troy Cordingley, and new defensive coordinator Phil Sanderson, the Roughnecks will likely have a new look to them on the floor, but there’s no reason to think their record by the end of the year should change that much.

They have a very balanced, dangerous offensive group and one of the most difficult-to-manage transition teams. They have the reigning NLL Goaltender of the Year and NLL MVP in Christian Del Bianco and two-time NLL Transition Player of the Year Zach Currier. Jesse King is back as captain of this team that went 13-5 last year. Those 13 wins were the most in franchise history.

With additions like Logan Schuss, Thomas Hoggarth and Thomas Vela, this team that was already very capable added a level of depth that is very impressive. The Roughnecks were 10-2 over their last 12 regular season games last season and they narrowly lost to the Colorado Mammoth in the 2023 NLL Semi-Finals in a win-or-go-home Game 3. They had a lot of success last year. There’s no reason why they won’t do it again this season.

 

4. Colorado Mammoth

Despite having a 9-9 record last season, the Mammoth got all the wins that they needed to once again prove that they are one of the best teams in the league. But they fell one win short of winning back-to-back NLL titles.

During last year’s run, the Mammoth showcased their resilience time and time again, and they started it Week 1 against the Saskatchewan Rush. The Mammoth lost by 12 goals (18-6) – it was their second-most lopsided loss in team history. Throughout the year, the also faced many injuries including to key players such as Joey Cupido, Ryan Lee, Chris Wardle and Tyson Gibson. Even Dillon Ward, Eli McLaughlin and Connor Robinson missed some time. But still, the Mammoth made the NLL Finals.

This team plays tough, they excel at handling pressure, and they never quit. When this team is healthy, they are very dangerous, and when they’re not, they embrace the next-man-up mentality and battle even harder. Playing at the Loud House in Colorado will always give the Mammoth an advantage.

With Ward on the PUP to start the season, the Mammoth will need to rely more heavily on their usually steady defense and longtime backup goaltender Tyler Carlson. When it comes to Colorado, you can never count them out because they often find ways to win.

3. Toronto Rock

Once again, the Toronto Rock are expected to be one of the top teams in the league, and rightfully so. They have elite talent at every position. They’ve got mainstays like Tom Schreiber leading the attack, and they added future hall of famer Mark Matthews, as well as Chris Boushy up front. They’ve get one of the best face-off men in the business in TD Ierlan, arguably the best transition player in the game in Challen Rogers, a wide array of talented defenders including Brad Kri, Mitch de Snoo, and Chris Corbeil, and they have Nick Rose in net.

There has been some unfortunate news for the Rock during the offseason with transition player Latrell Harris out for the year with an ACL injury, and Schreiber placed on the IR List earlier this week, but will that stop the Rock in their pursuit of a title?

They have so many pieces, young and with more experience, that why couldn’t they still get the job done? The Bandits have had their number during the last couple postseasons, but will that happen again this year? The Rock are going to make sure they are on the right side of history this time around.

 

2. San Diego Seals

The San Diego Seals enter the 2023-24 NLL Season with some notable changes to their roster and coaching staff. Will that be enough to get them an NLL Cup? They’ve gotten close to achieving their ultimate goal on a few occasions, but have come up just short.

Three of the most significant changes for the Seals: they are without Frank Scigliano between the pipes and instead have the un-retired Mike Poulin and youngster Chris Origlieri; they are without Kevin Crowley, who is now with his hometown Vancouver Warriors; and are without the future hall of famer Brodie Merrill, who retired over the summer.

But the Seals had answers as they lost those pieces. They brought in Poulin, they brought in Trevor Baptiste to dominate at the face-off dot, they brought in Kyle Rubisch on defense and Kyle Jackson to bolster an offense that still has Curtis Dickson, Dane Dobbie and Wes Berg.

The coaching changes will be one of the more interesting new dynamics to watch. Cam Woods has been hired as the team’s defensive coordinator and Jordan Hall has been brought on as the team’s offensive coordinator and director of player personnel. Each has won a championship and they bring a new perspective to a team that is on the brink of achieving their ultimate goal.

 

1. Buffalo Bandits

It only makes sense for the team that won the NLL Cup last season to be in this top spot, especially considering that not too much has changed since last season. In fact, they have all of their big name players back in the lineup, including MVP contender Dhane Smith and future hall of fame goaltender Matt Vinc. But it’s not just those guys that are back: Josh Bryne, Steve Priolo, Chase Fraser, Tehoka Nanticoke, Ian MacKay, and many others are all back in Banditland.

Last year, the team won its first NLL Cup since 2008. This season, they hope to make it back-to-back championships, which would be their first back-to-back titles since the 1992 and 1993 seasons – Bandits’ head coach John Tavares was on both of those teams.

The Bandits were ecstatic that they won the NLL Cup last year, but they are now more than ready to prove that they can do it again. They came back together to show that they could be repeat champions and have no plans of taking it easy this season. They still expect big-time performances from their big-time players and hope that the guys who are trying to make a name for themselves can do just that. Many in the lacrosse world said it last year, and it feels right to say it again this season – This is the Bandits’ year, according to the League’s coaches and GMs.

 

Preseason Awards  

MVP: Jeff Teat

Surprise, surprise, the league’s wonder boy is the League’s coaches and GMs pick for the MVP Award. The New York Riptide’s Jeff Teat does keep getting better and better, and that’s saying something considering he had 108 points and 111 loose ball recoveries in his rookie season, and then almost broke the single season scoring record of 137 points last season, finishing with 136 points (and 105 loose ball recoveries). If he continues to improve at that rate, he will be coasting to new single-season NLL records. Surly that would be deserving of the league’s MVP award. In his first two years in the NLL, Teat has shown he can be both an elite passer and an elite scorer. What will he show us this year?

 

Defensive Player of the Year: Graeme Hossack

After his immaculate 2022-23 season, it’s hard not to pick Graeme Hossack as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. He won the award last year with his league-leading 49 caused turnovers and added 16 blocked shots. He is built like a machine and plays with such discipline and focus that you might think he is one. Hossack plays suffocating defense, often starting when the offensive player crosses the midline. He is a dangerous man out there on the floor and has a tendency to rattle his opponents as soon as they are within range of his stick.

 

Offensive Player of the Year: Jeff Teat 

It makes sense that Jeff Teat would be in this spot knowing that he is also the pick for MVP. Most people think Teat is going to improve upon his points total from last season. The question is: how many more points will he have during the regular season?

 

Goaltender of the Year: Christian Del Bianco

There’s a reason that Del Bianco won Goaltender of the Year and MVP last season. He is more than a goaltender: he’s a focal point of Calgary’s transition game. Last season Del Bianco had 19 assists. Yes, you read that correctly. So, when he’s not making ridiculous save after ridiculous save, he’s helping his team get goals. It’s pretty incredible when a team has a goaltender that’s almost as good at creating goals as they are preventing them. If Del Bianco has another year like he did last season, it’d be hard to see how he doesn’t win the Goaltender of the Year Award again, although, there are a couple of goalies that were surely nipping at his toes for that honor a year ago.

 

Face-off Man of the Year: Jake Withers

Jake Withers was just named as the #1 face-off man in the NLL Top 50, so of course he’d find himself in this spot. He is a wizard at the dot and can get back and play very reliable defense. Withers is a weapon all over the floor and is one of the greatest face-off men and loose ball-getters in NLL history, and he is only 29 years old with only five years of NLL experience under his belt.

 

Rookie of the Year: Thomas McConvey

In terms of the NLL Entry Draft, it’s fair to say that GMs often get the #1 pick right. This is likely going to be the case with Thomas McConvey, who was drafted first overall in the 2022 NLL Entry Draft and is now joining a Knighthawks team coming off their first-ever playoff appearance. Not only will he want to make a good first impression, but his teammates will want to show him that they can be a playoff team again. It also helps that the Knighthawks no longer have Holden Cattoni or Thomas Hoggarth this season – those two produced 32% of the team’s goals last year. Can McConvey make up a big chunk of that in their absence? If he can, that Rookie of the Year award will surely be his.

 

Coach of the Year: Curt Malawsky & Turnaround Team of the Year: Vancouver Warriors

Last season, the Warriors were 4-14 but new head coach Curt Malawsky, who won Head Coach of the Year in 2022-23, has instantly transformed them into serious playoff contenders. It’s hard to see how he wouldn’t win the award again.

What will be most noticeable the Warriors this year is the fact that they will be playing with a new mentality. Playing for Coach Malawsky means you’re playing for more than yourself. It means you’re playing with a focus, energy and tenacity that comes from believing in yourself and having an equal amount of belief and trust in the men next to you on the floor. Malawsky has been known to make his players understand this, and that has helped make his teams successful.

Elite defensive rookie Owen Grant is joining the likes of NLL champions Matt Beers, Ryan Dilks and John Lintz on the back end alongside Brett Mydske and Reid Bowering. The defense is also bolstered by former NLL champion Aaron Bold, who will once again be between the pipes. On the offensive side of the ball, when you’ve got newcomers like Kevin Crowley, who can facilitate the ball with ease, to strong finishers like Keegan Bal, Kyle Killen and others, it’s not hard to see why this team is expected to make a significant improvement in their results.

 

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