Inside Lacrosse is gearing up for the upcoming 2016 NLL season with its countdown of the Top 50 Players in the National Lacrosse League ahead of the NLL’s 30th anniversary year starting on New Year’s Day. Preview players ranked #26-30 among the top laxers on the planet below and stay tuned as the best of the best are unveiled in the coming weeks.
30) Tyler Digby (Calgary Roughnecks)
When you dress a forward who comes in at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, you expect him to bring it. And make no mistake, Tyler Digby can bring it.
What you may not expect is the soft mitts from such a big guy and yes, Digby brings that too. Using a mixture of physical play and silky smooth hands, the right-handed forward out of New Westminster is a versatile offensive presence and he’s got the numbers to prove it, which is why he remains a steady presence on our list of the Top 50 players in the game today.
Digby came to the Vancouver Stealth in 2014 and has 60 goals in 2 seasons to his credit. That’s quite impressive, especially considering 22 of those goals came in his rookie season. There’s no doubt the Stealth loved his work, but so did other teams.
That’s why he’s with the Calgary Roughnecks today after a deal or two eventually landed him with the Riggers. He’s got the frame to establish his ground and certainly doesn’t get pushed around. He knows when to lean in, when to release and how to move around down low to keep defenders on the move or even off-balance.
“I was one person surprised by the trade(s) of Tyler Digby. Dealing a 38 goal scorer is one thing. The complete package of what Digby brings to an offense is another element every team can use and most are in shortage of. The big man has gotten comfortable playing lacrosse at the highest level and he grinds it out with the best of them. He will trade Duch for Dickson or Berg as his linemate and should see lots of in tight looks again this year. The Calgary right side will be bringing the beef.” – Tyler Digby
29) Dane Dobbie (Calgary Roughnecks)
The impressive thing about Dane Dobbie and his goal-scoring ways is just how consistent he’s been over the course of his 7 full National Lacrosse League seasons.
Since 2009, the left-handed forward out of Elora, Ont., has scored fewer than 34 goals just 1 time and even then, 28 goals in an injury-shortened 2012 season ain’t all that bad. So when Dobbie finished with 36 goals as part of his 67-point season with the Calgary Roughnecks last winter, it was just business as usual for a guy who continually keeps himself at the head of the class when it comes to offense.
But, as we know, scorers aren’t all that uncommon in lacrosse. What puts Dobbie in a class of his own is his heart. It’s a characteristic that’s been written about over and over again but who in their right mind can deny Dobbie’s passion?
Listed at 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, it’s as though all logic and rationality is tossed out the window when you watch Dobbie play. Constantly, he’s diving, pushing, clawing, scratching and battling for every inch of space on the floor during his shifts. It’s a fantastic trait to have, of course, but it’s nearly impossible to not cringe when Dobbie’s frame is bouncing around like a pinball from defender to defender.
“It’s exhausting watching Dobbie play so I can’t imagine how he’s feeling after games. But there’s no question his motor is one of the busiest in the game and he’s got the proverbial heart on the proverbial sleeve. He knows the game and knows how to find his way to the space he needs. But sometimes, lacrosse doesn’t go according to plan and that’s when Dobbie’s instincts kick in. More often than not, he’s right and the passion and energy with which he plays deserving nothing less than the utmost of respect.” – Bob Chavez
28) Ryan Dilks (Saskatchewan Rush)
The thing about Ryan Dilks is that there really isn’t much to it. He’s just here to play defense and shut you down.
Nothing complicated, nothing fancy, nothing to really think about. Just do it, and be on your way. It’s been a process for the right-hander out of Hamilton, Ont., but the Saskatchewan Rush and Victoria Shamrocks are thrilled that the process is taking place on their side, because Dilks has clearly turned himself into one of the game’s elite defenders.
At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, Dilks doesn’t stand out until after the opening faceoff. That’s when you start to see the quickness, the speed and the smart play. He’s been part of coach Derek Keenan’s systems for some time now, so he gets it.
It helps, of course, knowing your teammates so well. That knowledge and familiarity has helped Dilks and his teammates learn to trust each other, which in turn boosts confidence all around. That’s clearly the case with Dilks, who has all the ideal tools to thrive and proved it this past NLL season with career-bests of 80 loose balls and 33 forced turnovers, which ranked second on the team.
“When I talked to offensive players to help finalize my votes for IL Indoor’s defensive player of the year award, one name kept coming up: Dilks. There are plenty of defenders who get more recognition but there simply wasn’t a better one-on-one defener than him in the NLL last year. He’s not going to blow you up or score a ton in transition, but at the very basis of the defensive game — stopping opponents from getting scoring opportunities — he may have been the best in the business in 2015.
You could make a strong argument for Dilks as the NLL’s top defender last season. You could also make a very strong argument for him not just as the best defender but also the MVP of the 2015 Mann Cup (not to take away anything from actual MVP Corey Small or fellow defender Greg Harnett, who would also have been a worthy recipient). Dilks didn’t stand out as much in helping Canada to a gold medal at the worlds, but he was still solid enough to reinforce his place among the game’s top defenders.” – Stephen Stamp
27) Brett Hickey (Toronto Rock)
He’s one of the great stories of the 2015 National Lacrosse League season. Brett Hickey went from being a fifth-round draft pick and a part-time player for 2 NLL seasons to being an elite goal-scorer and a major part of a Toronto Rock offense that was oh so close to winning it all.
But the right-handed forward out of Windsor, Ont., admits that while he struggled in those first 2 seasons in which he played a combined 9 games, he also learned. And what we saw in 2015 are the fruits of those lessons, which put him in the conversation of the Top 50 players in today’s game.
At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Hickey has the physical presence to do what needs to be done with his job out the front door. But what he got in 2015 was an opportunity, and he made the most of it. He scored 5 goals with the Stealth in his first 2 seasons and when he joined the Rock before the 2015 season, he learned the Rock would be counting on him to fill a scoring void created by injuries to others.
He responded with 50 goals, fourth-most in the NLL. He added 16 points (7-9) in 4 playoff games to help lead the Rock to the NLL finals, where they came up just short against the Rush.
“Brett Hickey’s story is the best lax story I’ve heard in some time. Hickey’s climb to the elite was in the span of 18 games and it was spectacular. A gangbuster year with 50 goals and 81 points was nothing short of spectacular. Add in the .260 shooting percentage and you know this is no flash in the pan. Can Hickey thank his Rock supporting cast? Sure, but it was the playing time and the Billings injury that opened the door for the NLL’s next big thing. Looking forward to Brett’s encore.” – Marty O’Neill
26) Jordan MacIntosh (Georgia Swarm)
There aren’t many lacrose problems with Jordan MacIntosh but if there’s one glaring challenge, it is this: Where and how do you use him?
It’s the versatility of this 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-hander out of Oakville, Ont., that has coaches both indoors and outdoors trying to figure this out. Because whether it’s taking a draw, getting a touch on offense or helping out on the back end, MacIntosh does a lot of different things and he does them well. That’s what continues to keep him among the Top 50 players in the game today.
The 48 points on 20 goals and 28 assists for the National Lacrosse League’s Minnesota Swarm last season was the lowest output of his 4-year career. But that had more to do with the arrival of Miles Thompson as a right-handed rookie than it did anything else and even then, MacIntosh kept alive his streak of scoring at least 20 goals in every NLL season he’s played.
He led the Swarm with 182 loose balls, a number aided by being the side’s No. 1 faceoff guy and winning 164 of the 374 draws he took. He also finished second on the team with 24 caused turnovers, while also leading the team with 3 short-handed goals.
“The MacIntosh factor is in Swarmland is a major component to success for the blue and gold. MacIntosh does so many jobs and is counted on for everything but goaltending. Jordan scores goals, plays all special teams well and is the faceoff guy of note for Georgia. It looks like MacIntosh may be headed for more defense and transition in 2016 but rest assured wherever he is used he will excel and fill the role his coaches put him in.” – Marty O’Neill
Check back to follow the full Inside Lacrosse countdown of the NLL Top 50 Players on IL Indoor.