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ExpansionStories/Op-Ed

Evaluating PCLC’s Expansion Draft Selections

Panther City has a roster. Well, the makings of one.

Tuesday night’s expansion draft was the first step for Panther City to build its inaugural team. While they have a long way to go in free agency and the entry draft, they have a tangible roster to build off of going forward.

First, here’s a projected depth chart following the expansion draft and their related trades in the hours after. They turned 13 picks into 16 players in one night.

Goalies: Kevin Orleman, Nick Damude

Left handed defensemen: Taylor Stuart, Sam Clare, Jordan Trottier

Right handed defensemen: Matt Hossack, Connor Sellars, Liam Byrnes, Liam Patten

Left handed forwards: Ryan Benesch, Dawson Theede, Will Malcolm

Right handed forwards: Connor Kelly, Phil Caputo, Patrick Dodds, Charlie Kitchen

They still need some help at forward, particularly depth on the left side. Adding Ryan Benesch from Halifax is an anchor to their offense. He was, perhaps a surprise to some people, the most notable selection of the night.

Matt Hossack, the first pick from Saskatchewan, is a defensive stalwart for years to come. They can build around him, and the trade for Taylor Stuart from Toronto and an already-deep right side has the makings of a strong defensive club for Tracey Kelusky’s group.

Byrnes will be a huge part of the right side of the defense as a loose balls machine with 120 in his 27 game NLL career. The other Liam, Patten, brings an additional 139 loose balls in 35 games. They improved the defense trading for Conor Sellars as well, who was a member of the 2017 champion Swarm squad. Sam Clare, who played eight games and tallied eight points for Vancouver, also has some potential.

Damude, coming from the Seals, is likely their long-term goalie. Last season he played in 11 games where he posted a 3-1 record and a .789 save percentage. Orleman, added from Georgia, will be in the fold with a .722 save percentage in his 30 career games. As a former second round draft pick and three year backup behind Mike Poulin, he’ll push Damude in training camp and beyond.

Benesch is the most accomplished NLL player brought to Panther City. In 218 career games, he’s produced 1,061 points (top-10 all-time) and 1,084 loose balls. He’s the veteran presence they can build the rest of the offense around, and there’s a lot of work to do.

Phil Caputo has quietly had a solid NLL career with 41 points in 31 games, and he was a major points getter in junior. If relied upon more heavily, he could be a sneaky good addition. He took full advantage of his one full season in the NLL in 2020, scoring 25 points with the expansion Knighthawks in 10 games.

Patrick Dodds last played in the 2019 Minto Cup, so he’s a young player they can develop. Same for Charlie Kitchen, who was a second round pick last season to the then-Black Wolves. Connor Kelly has 56 points in 24 games in his young career between San Diego and New York, so he’s joining his third club — all expansion teams. He could thrive in a more expanded role and understands the tasks associated with building an expansion team.

Panther City took Chris Wardle from Colorado then flipped him back to the Mammoth for Will Malcolm and Jordan Trottier. Since Joey Cupido was left unprotected, there’s a good chance they had some sort of an agreement to leave him be with the Mammoth and get two players in return. It’s the second time Wardle has been taken from Colorado in an expansion draft just to be traded right back.

It’s a solid start for Panther City, if a bit inexperienced. Over 80 percent of the career points come from Benesch, easily the most experienced new roster player. It’s important to have a veteran on offense to distribute the ball through, and it’s good there will be some players who get a chance to shine, as normally does happen in expansion.

They could add some more veterans on offense from here, especially with more street free agents now available following the 31-man roster cuts around the league on Wednesday afternoon. Panther City will also have the opportunity to bring in additional players to their training camp to see which players gel and stand out before finalizing their roster for Week 1.

Panther City has already created a 16-man roster out of 13 picks with a mix of veterans and young players. That’s a good first day of being a team with players.

NLL