Inside Lacrosse continues its countdown of the Top 50 NLL Players on IL Indoor coinciding with the start of the National Lacrosse League’s 30th Anniversary Season on New Year’s Day. Check out previews for pros ranked #16-20 among the top lacrosse players in the world and stay tuned as the best of the best are unveiled in the coming weeks.
20) Josh Sanderson (Toronto Rock)
His legacy is secure, but Josh Sanderson certainly isn’t playing like it.
Four times in his National Lacrosse League career, Shooter has scored more than 100 points but he hadn’t cleared that plateau since 2010. With his last 4 seasons prior to 2015 hovering in the 60-point range, the logical assumption is that age is catching up with the veteran. But now you know why we’re told to never assume.
Sanderson made plenty eat crow in 2015 after the right-handed forward out of Orangeville registered his first 100-point season, finishing the regular season with 102 points on 19 goals and 83 assists. It’s nothing short of amazing to see a seasoned vet like Sanderson regain his form, especially when the Toronto Rock needed him most with injuries keeping a few of the team’s top scorers on the sideline for much of last season.
Clearly, Sanderson remains one of the best in the game and while he’s still got a great shooting touch, it’s his ability to feed teammates that makes him so dangerous. Vision, anticipation and patience are a big part of the set-up man’s role and Sanderson does all of that to near perfection. He’s got the IQ to anticipate open areas and the ability to deliver the pass on target, which is equally important as scoring goals or stopping them.
“Josh Sanderson is one of the best to ever play the game–especially when it comes to passing–and he’d obviously had some great seasons before 2015. That’s what makes it so amazing that he was able to top his previous single season high-water mark in assists by nine! Put it this way: he had more assists last year (83) than he had had points in any of the four seasons before that, and by quite a bit. How you do that as a 37/38 year-old is a huge question, but it obviously had a lot to do with his massive lacrosse IQ and exquisite touch. What’s he got left in the tank for this year? It’s hard to say, but every season that Shooter returns is a reason to celebrate for lacrosse fans.” – Stephen Stamp
19) Dan Dawson (Rochester Knighthawks)
When discussion of the all-time greats starts getting down to the nitty gritty, one of the elements of support is consistency.
Sure, a fella can have a breakout season, but can he maintain that? Can he keep it going, or even do better? So now that we’re creeping into the upper echelon of lacrosse greats in the game today, we turn to consistency and who better to be an example of that than Dan Dawson?
The 6-foot-6 right-hander out of Oakville, Ont., can shoot and score, we know this. He can set up teammates as well as anyone, something else we already know. And when it comes to key possessions, there’s no question that having the ball in Dawson’s stick is one of the smartest things a team can do.
But what makes Dawson a Top 50 player today is that he’s done all of this, year in and year out. This past National Lacrosse League season in Rochester, Dawson finished with 85 points on 23 goals and 62 assists before adding 13 points in 4 playoff games. But here’s the thing: the 2015 season was Dawson’s 12 straight season with 74 or more points. And of those 12 seasons, 10 of them have seen him score 81or more points, including 3 with 100 or more.
“Dawson is a seven-time all-pro who seems to just keep going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny. Six times in his career he’s scored more than the 85 points he posted in 2015, but he’s still producing and playing a huge leadership role for the Rochester Knighthawks (and the Victoria Shamrocks and Team Canada). His on-floor role has shifted to more of a feeder than a finisher—last year was his fourth-highest assist total but 10 times he’s scored more goals than last year’s 23. An interesting, albeit not extremely relevant, note: last year’s 19 penalty minutes was also tied for the second-most in Dawson’s 14-year career. Is he getting feistier as he ages?” – Stephen Stamp
18) John Grant, Jr. (Colorado Mammoth)
John Grant Jr. was born to score goals and make no mistake, that’s what he does. The last time he failed to score 34 or more goals in a single season outside of his 2009 injury season, current Colorado Mammoth teammate Joey Cupido was 15 years old and goalie Alexis Buque was 13.
So there’s a bit of context as to how consistent Grant’s been over the years but really, what we all know is that it’s not so much the volume of goals for Grant. It’s the flair and the style. And it’s a bit of both that makes him one of the Top 50 players in the game today.
The 6-foot-2, 224-pound left-hander out of Peterborough surely will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. But as a playing career in the National Lacrosse League winds down, his urgency to win his first Champion’s Cup since he did so in 2007 with Rochester is growing.
Perhaps that’s the fuel behind the fire that led to 91 points last season for the second straight time. His 34 goals were the fewest he’s scored since scoring 36 in 2011, but the 57 assists were the most for him since 2012 (66). That’s because he’s got more offensive help in Colorado these days and he’s said in recent seasons that doesn’t care who scores as long as it helps the Mammoth win.
“While we may be witnessing the evolution of Grant becoming more of a feeder than a scorer in his latter years, it is arguable that JGJ is the most prolific goal scorer in the history of boxla. The most impressive quality of Grant’s is his ability to be front and center and carry the mail for the franchise. Grant has done this almost since his rookie year in Rochester and the pressures he takes to work every weekend are far more than the average player. Along with the pressure is the physical piece of being the No. 1 target of opposing teams scouting reports. John has been accused of shooting too much occasionally but will never be accused of playing soft or being afraid to take it to the goal. Look for him to dominate the Mammoth power play and continue to produce points in a big way in 2016.” – Marty O’Neill
17) Robert Church (Saskatchewan Rush)
There are many pieces to the championship puzzle that is the Saskatchewan Rush, and Robert Church is one of them.
He’s not the biggest guy on the floor, or the fastest. At least not on his feet. But when it comes to finishing touches, Church clearly is among the best. And so it stands to reason that he’s an easy choice to be included in our list of Top 50 players in lacrosse today.
The 5-foot-10, 192-pound right-hander out of Coquitlam didn’t lead his National Lacrosse League team (Rush) or his Western Lacrosse Association team (Burnaby Lakers) in scoring. But he was right there among the leaders, finishing second on the Rush with 92 points (37-55) and third on the Lakers with 45 points (23-22).
So what does that mean? Well, it means that in Church, the Rush and the Lakers have a man who is capable of being the leading scorer, but he’s also capable of doing what’s asked of him within the team framework. With the Rush, he did his most damage with a team-leading 14 power-play goals, which also was tied for third-most in the NLL. And the thing you need to know about finishing third on Burnaby in points is that he played just 12 games and actually led the team with 3.75 points per game.
“Looking at the Rush point totals of Matthews, Greer, McIntosh and Church last year it’s easy to assume that we have a special group here. Sharing the ball didn’t seem to be an issue which makes the Rush hard to defend. Robert Church is the stir-stick in the mix in my opinion. I watched Church in his first year of Junior A and all I saw was Josh Sanderson. Robert’s creativity moving the ball and selecting the right play will keep him at a high pay grade well into the future. Shooting is no issue either for Church with 58 goals in his two NLL seasons thus far. Church has lots of upside so we haven’t seen the best he’s got…yet. 2016 should see Church joining the 100 point club.” – Marty O’Neill
16) Mark Steenhuis (Buffalo Bandits)
Mark Steenhuis has been asked to a lot of different jobs over the last few years. Especially for the National Lacrosse League’s Buffalo Bandits.
Such is the position you’re in when you do everything so well. Steenhuis has long been one of the best overall athletes in the league, which also makes him one of the most versatile. Front door, back door. Doesn’t seem to matter because no matter where Steenhuis is working, he’s one of the best in the game.
You can pretty much track the responsibilities of Steenhuis over the seasons by looking at his points totals. Not long ago, he was scoring points and that was followed by a decrease in production because he was in the back end getting his defensive game on along with sparking transition. But last season, it was a green light once again for the right-hander out of St. Catharines.
He scored 36 goals, the most he’s scored since scoring 36 in 2010 and his 95 points was the most he’s scored since that same 2010 season (90 points). Clearly, Steenhuis was back in his offensive groove, using his athleticism to burn defenders and rocket of a shot to frustrate goalies.
“Steenhuis is one more veteran player enjoying unbelievable success in his twilight years. The points were flowing in 2015 as Steenhuis played more offensive shifts but I’m most impressed at Mark’s overall game and how it’s grown. The attention to detail in all parts of the game has him playing his best lacrosse to date no matter what the point totals say. Steenhuis’s ground ball grit and defensive play has improved noticeably in the most recent years and so has his ability to set up others and be a play maker. Other teams must pay attention when he is on the floor because his skill set can put the Bandits on the offensive from anywhere in the blink of an eye and he is a deadly finisher.” – Marty O’Neill
Check back to follow the full Inside Lacrosse countdown of the NLL Top 50 Players on IL Indoor.
NLL Top 50: #21-25
NLL Top 50: #26-30
NLL Top 50: #31-35
NLL Top 50: #36-40
NLL Top 50: #41-45
NLL Top 50: #46-50