The countdown to the 2016 NLL season nears closer with the National Lacrosse League’s 30th anniversary year set to begin on January 1st. Coinciding with the start of the 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 #36-40 on the list of the world’s best lacrosse players comprised by IL staff members Stephen Stamp, Bob Chavez and Marty O’Neill.
40) Logan Schuss – Vancouver Stealth
The precision with which Logan Schuss shoots a lacrosse ball is remarkable. Give him time and space, and the shots from this left-hander out of Ladner, B.C., find a way through any daylight between pad and pipe, leaving goaltenders asking the same question homeowners with a mouse problem have: How did that get in there?
The shooting skills of Schuss were no secret. It’s a large part behind why he was the No. 1 overall National Lacrosse League entry draft pick by the Minnesota Swarm in 2013. And while it’s clear that his shot is what’s made a name for him, it’s equally as clear that his game has progressed to the point of making him one of the Top 50 players in lacrosse today.
The 73 points that Schuss scored as a rookie with the Swarm led to Rookie of the Year honors and validated Minnesota’s decision for the No. 1 pick. The logical progression is to ask about a sophomore slump and although he missed the first 2 games of 2015 because of work, it didn’t take long to rule out the idea of any kind of slump slowing his roll.
He played 9 games with Minnesota and carded 32 points on 14 goals and 18 assists before a trade sent him closer to home to play with the Vancouver Stealth. There, he had 34 points on 8 goals and 26 assists, proving that he can help just as well as he can finish.
“I remember watching Schuss in his first NLL practice with Minnesota and thinking, “This kid can shoot.” It took him a while to adjust to the pro league and diversify his game, but he appears to have settled in and established himself as a solid contributor who can still shoot the lights out on a given night but is more well-rounded and can be productive even when shooting chances aren’t materializing for him. Just look at his last three games with Vancouver last season, in which he scored 18 points of which only 4 were goals. Scoring 22 goals as opposed to the 36 he put up in his rookie year stemmed partly from a lower shooting percentage, but I also saw development in his game as a feeder, which is evidenced by the 44 assists he posted in 16 games versus 37 in 18 games as a rookie.” – Stephen Stamp
39) Robert Hope – Colorado Mammoth
Rarely do we walk away from games talking about Robert Hope and really, that’s ideal. At least for a defenseman. Because if we’re talking about a D man after a game, it’s usually because it was a mistake by the defense that led to a goal that shouldn’t have been scored.
But as this left-hander out of Peterborough has shown with the National Lacrosse League’s Colorado Mammoth and the Peterborough Lakers of the Major Series, there are few mistakes from him to talk about. And that’s why he’s clearly among the Top 50 players in the world today.
As the No. 7 overall NLL entry draft pick in 2014, Hope didn’t disappoint in Colorado. He was second on the team with 28 forced turnovers and 72 loose balls and was part of a solid core that showed big improvement in the back end from the season prior.
“Hope continues to make huge strides. In 2013, he had a very good rookie season with the MSL’s Peterborough Lakers, showing promise that he would become a solid member of the team’s defensive core. He followed that up with a summer season that firmly established him as the top defender in the 2014 NLL draft and one of the most consistent defenders Peterborough had. He repaid Colorado’s belief in him—they traded up to get the seventh pick when he was surprisingly still available at that point—with a rookie pro season in which he started strong and got better, finishing tied for eighth in the league in caused turnovers. And then, this summer, he had another breakout year that saw him as arguably Peterborough’s best defender and culminated in a berth on IL Indoor’s Mann Cup all-star team. Hope doesn’t do anything flashy, but he has developed into an elite defender who rarely gets beaten, can be counted on to move the ball up the floor and make smart decisions. If you haven’t noticed him yet, pay careful attention and you’ll become a fan.” – Stephen Stamp
38) Sid Smith – Rochester Knighthawks
Sid Smith has always been the kind of defenseman whose value and skill surpasses the measuring stick of statistics. Of course, there aren’t a lot of stats by which to gauge the effectiveness of defensemen, but there’s no question his work on the back end is at an elite level.
But last winter, this left-hander out of Six Nations showed up for his sixth National Lacrosse League season with the Rochester Knighthawks noticeably slimmer. And the result was something many didn’t think was possible: He was even better.
Smith continues to be one of the top defenders in the game, both with the Knighthawks and the Six Nations Chiefs of Major Series. He led Rochester with 30 forced turnovers last winter but the speed and quickness that he added to his game from an offseason regiment that lightened his load resulted in him adding a transition game that saw him score 2 goals.
That doesn’t sound like much, of course, and really, it’s not. But the point here is that his new focus on fitness gave his teams one more production option in transition and with the way the game is today, can you have too many choices on the run?
“Smith came into the league as a No. 1 overall selection and has been a stalwart defender during Rocho’s three time championship run. Defense wins championships as we all know. Smith is smart like a fox and plays the K-Hawks system to perfection and sometimes displays needed aggression in holding down the fort.” – Marty O’Neill
37) Joel McCready – Vancouver Stealth
We’ve all got that buddy who doesn’t think twice about jumping into the thicket, crawling under the car, or dressing the fish you just reeled in. They’re not pleasant jobs, but they’re necessary jobs.
That’s what Joel McCready is in lacrosse. He’s the guy who does whatever he’s asked to do to ensure a team’s success and sometimes, he doesn’t even need to be asked. He just recognizes what needs to be done and makes sure that it is. This is just part of his lacrosse IQ and his soaring work ethic that makes this right-handed forward out of St. Catharines the player that he is, which is one of the 50 best in the game today.
There are many observers who point to McCready as a key piece to Rochester’s 3-year run of National Lacrosse League championships from 2011 to 2014. He’s the guy who plowed lanes for fellow forwards. He motored to and from the bench so no one else was hung out to dry. Basically, he did what was needed to be done, the kind of stuff that doesn’t get a lot of love on the stat sheet or recognition outside the locker room.
But the Knighthawks knew what they had in McCready, and so did the Vancouver Stealth. That’s why there was no hesitation to include him in a 2015 trade package. And while it may not have quite worked out in terms of a playoff berth for the Stealth, McCready provided much of the same work he did in Rochester and even had himself a career year offensively with 51 points (30 goals, 21 assists).
“The type of work McCready does is not without its share of pain, and it takes a special player to gear up for that role time in and time out, knowing what kind of punishment is in store. But McCready not only does this, he does it well. Almost relishes it. The bonus is that he’s been making strides in his offensive output, giving his teams the beautiful combination of a grinder who can finish a shift with a goal or assist. He’s an invaluable and necessary asset for any team in any league.” – Bob Chavez
36) Callum Crawford – Colorado Mammoth
He’s called Showtime for a reason. And what is that reason? How about 5 straight seasons of 25 or more goals for Callum Crawford? It’s a streak that ran from 2010 to 2014 and ended this past season, when he finished with 19.
But this right-handed forward out of Ottawa was limited by injuries and played just 12 National Lacrosse League games in 2015. Of course, we could calculate that and tell you that his goal-scoring of last winter projects to 28, which would have kept the 25-or-more streak alive, but you don’t need to hear that to know that Crawford is still one of the Top 50 players in the game today.
Crawford is about as steady as it gets when it comes to goal production. And that’s an impressive feat given what he had to work with in his six seasons in Minnesota. That’s not to crumb on his Swarm teammates over the years. Rather, it’s pointing out the constant roster shuffles that gave him new sticks to work with year over year.
Some adjustments never take, but that never seemed to be an issue with Crawford. He provided production, which in turn provided leadership and that was a big reason he was pursued as a free agent this offseason by the Colorado Mammoth.
“Crawford was remarkably consistent for the Minnesota Swarm. He scored 80 or more points in four of the first five seasons he spent with the team — including years with 95 and 96 points — and that’s exactly the pace he maintained last winter that saw him wind up with only 53 points because he missed six games. Crawford is a good mid-range shooter who can also go to the net and finish athletically. His four seasons of 54+ assists show he’s also keeping his eyes peeled for open teammates while he works with the ball. It will be interesting to see how Crawford fares in Colorado, where he won’t face the pressure to be a No. 1 guy but can feed off of the open looks that come to teammates when John Grant Jr. and Adam Jones are working the ball on the far side of the floor.” – Stephen Stamp
Check back to follow the full Inside Lacrosse countdown of the NLL Top 50 Players on IL Indoor.