The countdown to the start of the National Lacrosse League’s 30th anniversary year continues ahead of the 2016 NLL season launching on New Year’s Day. Coinciding with the start of training camps and preseason, Inside Lacrosse is rolling out its annual Top 50 NLL Players on IL Indoor. Find previews below and click the link for the full breakdown of each player ranked #31-35 on the list of the world’s best lacrosse players comprised by IL staff members Stephen Stamp, Bob Chavez and Marty O’Neill.
35) Brad Self – Rochester Knighthawks
Brad Self just doesn’t get it. Or maybe he doesn’t care. Or maybe it’s none of our freakin’ business.
This left-hander out of Peterborough isn’t the biggest or strongest defenseman on the floor. As for quickest and smartest, well, that’s the part that has a lot of people scratching their heads. Because at age 34, he’s not really supposed to be doing what he’s doing. And what he’s doing is being one of the game’s best defenders, especially when it comes to the giddy-up-and-go game of transition lacrosse.
Self’s National Lacrosse League career actually got started back in 2003 before he took a break to pursue hockey. When he returned, he signed with Rochester in 2012 and it’s been nothing short of fantastic for both.
Last winter, he scored 20 points on 6 goals and 14 assists, which is fantastic considering what he’s really in Rochester to do. He led the team in loose balls (133) and was second to Sid Smith with 24 caused turnovers. And while it’s this defensive stuff that he does very well, it’s the added element of what he does in transition that makes him such a valuable asset. Not to mention all this work was done last season with just 2 PIM.
“They say the legs go first, but at age 34, Self is showing no signs of slowing down. He can still run away from almost anyone in the league but does so selectively in keeping with the Rochester game plan. Since returning to the NLL after missing three years to play pro hockey in Germany, Self has been a model of consistency: he’s scored between 6 and 9 goals and added between 13 and 18 assists for totals of between 20 and 25 points in each of his four years with the Knighthawks. In that time, he’s also worked hard to make himself a better defender and is now a more reliable contributor in his own end before he ever picks up the ball.” – Stephen Stamp
34) Joey Cupido – Colorado Mammoth
Given the speed with which Joey Cupido plays, it’s difficult to say he sneaks up on much of anyone or anything.
The right-handed transition man out of Hamilton doesn’t exactly play a subtle game. Quick, smart and strong, Cupido tasted the National Lacrosse League for the first time in 2012 and slowly worked his way into the Colorado Mammoth lineup over the next 3 seasons. And when he earned a regular spot in 2015, he didn’t let up. He turned in the kind of season that made him the league’s Transition Player of the Year to earn himself a legit spot among the Top 50 best players in the game today.
We’d seen glimpses of Cupido’s potential in the last couple of seasons, but in 2015 is when he broke through. Yes, his 31 points on 16 goals and 15 assists is more than the 28 points he scored in his first 3 seasons, but it was his work on the other side that really opened eyes.
His 133 loose balls was second-most for the Mammoth and his 40 caused turnovers was tops in the entire league. Much of that can be attributed to his blinding speed, but speed doesn’t help much if you can’t get the ball in your stick or check it away from the opposition.
“Cupido put up some good numbers in the 2015 NLL season; perhaps the most remarkable of them is .372. That was his shooting percentage. Cupido took 43 shots last season and scored on 16 of them. That is a very high mark, best in the league among players who took more than 21 shots, and it’s a good example of the kind of impact Cupido had for the Mammoth in his breakout season for which he was awarded the league’s transition player of the year award.
“His story is a great one: he was a fifth-round NLL pick in September of 2011 and a fourth-rounder in the MSL draft the following January. After playing just one game in 2012 for Colorado, he earned all-rookie honours in 2013. In 2014 he was named co-defensive player of the year in MSL, then last year in the NLL he led the league in caused turnovers en route to the transition honour. He just keeps improving and using his anticipation and breakaway speed to create scoring chances. If he can follow in the footsteps of other transition players like Brad Self and improve his defensive game to match his transition ability, Cupido could be on his way to becoming a truly elite player.” – Stephen Stamp
33) Jeff Shattler – Calgary Roughnecks
The great thing about being a superstar is the level of expectation from your game. That’s also the downside, as Jeff Shattler discovered in 2015.
At least at the National Lacrosse League level. The left-hander who was born in Edmonton put up NLL numbers in Calgary that were well-below what we’re used to seeing. But considering what he did over the summer, he continues to show the world that he’s one of the best. One of the Top 50 best, as it were.
Shattler scored 30 or more goals for 3 straight seasons and 72 or more points for 4 with the Calgary Roughnecks. But that streak came to an end in 2015 as he finished with 28 goals and 62 points which, by most accounts, still is a solid season.
But this is Shattler we’re talking about. We’ve become so accustomed to seeing great play up and down the floor and while it’s not like he completely disappeared, perhaps Calgary’s 0-6 start to the season offers an explanation.
“In 2015, Shattler had his lowest output in goals and points (28 and 62, respectively, in 18 games) since 2010, back in his days playing transition for Calgary. Oddly enough, 2015 also represented his second-highest scoring output (27g, 40a, 67 points in 14 games) at the major level since 2012. When Shattler is at his best, he’s playing a fluid game that sees him finding shooting lanes through floor awareness and quick feet while setting up teammates with his patented backward flip pass among other weapons. At the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships, the Thompson brothers earned plenty of attention but Shattler was the leading scorer for the Iroquois with 33 points and his presence was critical to making the offence flow.” – Stephen Stamp
32) Dan Coates – Colorado Mammoth
No matter how it’s sliced, there isn’t a lot of glory that comes with being a defenseman. Goals and points always have been the sexy stat and that’s really not going to change anytime soon.
But invisible or not, defense will always be needed and in this case, Dan Coates is just the guy to deliver it.
The right-hander out of St. Catharines just finished his fourth National Lacrosse League season and whether he’s with the Colorado Mammoth, the Six Nations Chiefs of Major Series or Team Canada at the WILC, Coates is as steady as it gets when it comes to stops.
Yes, he’s been a reliable scooper of loose balls and he’s been good for about 1.5 forced turnovers per NLL game, those aren’t the numbers you base your final answer upon. It’s difficult to quantify the effect of an elite defenseman; it’s just one of those things you know.
“It’s a classic, no-nonsense approach for Coates. In 1-on-1 situations, he does a great job of reading what’s coming at him by reading hips and keeping himself square with great footwork. That means he’s ready for change of direction by maintaining position, which in turn means less room for recovery if one is needed. But with Coates, recovery is a rare sight because his instincts and athletic ability keep him in position to make him one of the toughest defenders for opposing forwards to shake.” – Bob Chavez
31) Corey Small – Vancouver Stealth
We all know the story of Corey Small, who tore an ACL in 2013 and missed the entire 2014 National Lacrosse League season.
Some guys who have walked these shoes come back with a new appreciation for the game, talking about how much they miss something that was taken away. There’s nothing to suggest Small had thoughts like this, but if his play is any indication, he came back to the game with a vengeance and reminded all of us why he certainly belongs among the game’s Top 50.
After 4 NLL seasons, all with Edmonton, the left-handed forward out of St. Catharines was building a solid rep as a reliable outside shooter who could pick corners with the best of them. When he came back in 2015 and was traded to Vancouver early in the season, it was game on.
Small’s an elite shooter in a game full of above-average talent. But he’s separated himself as a force to be reckoned with and the scary part is he’s just 27 years old. There’s more to come from Small, no doubt, and there’s little reason to think he won’t continue his climb up the list of Top 50 players in the years to come.
“Small was the 2015 Mike Kelly award winner at the Mann Cup, no small feat. Corey`s battle back from ACL surgery looks complete. Small is without a doubt one of the best outside shooters I have ever witnessed with his corner-painting abilities. Corey can be a deadly power play guy as he shoots and distributes well and he uses screens with the best of ’em. This winter I expect Small will have his best season to date with his experience, confidence and health leading the way.” – Marty O’Neill
Check back to follow the full Inside Lacrosse countdown of the NLL Top 50 Players on IL Indoor.