NLL Week 3: Player Power Rankings
By: Andy McNamara
Photo by: Candace Ward
Through only two weekends, the 2017 National Lacrosse League campaign has already produced several surprises.
Who would’ve predicted the combination of both Champion’s Cup finalists from a season ago losing their openers in convincing fashion? How about last place Vancouver impressing with consecutive victories on a back-to-back?
It’s difficult to rate individuals right now when only three clubs having played more than one game. These power rankings will take all positions and skill sets into account, meaning that this list will not include only the top scorers or perennial all-stars.
Let’s take a look at five of the most dominant players from around the NLL so far.
5. Brodie Merrill – T – Toronto Rock
The new Rock captain led by example in their dominant opening weekend triumph over Rochester. Toronto is in a retooling mode with a lot of youth, but the veteran Merrill proved he’s as gritty as ever.
This 12-year pro is tied for second in the league at 15 loose balls, however, the difference is he got all of them in one game. Merrill did more than just scramble for possession. He used that massive 6’4’’, 205lbs frame to amass three points in the 12-5 victory, including the game winner.
The Rock had this week off and are going to need the captain’s toughness as they host a wounded Saskatchewan Rush group looking to redeem themselves.
4. Tyler Richards – G – Vancouver Stealth
Just call Tyler Richards “The Comeback Kid”. The 30-year old goaltender has struggled the previous couple of seasons, but rang in the New Year in a big way with wins on consecutive evenings over Calgary and the Mammoth.
If Vancouver wants to crawl out of the West division basement where they sat in 2016, a resurgence for Richards would be a great place to start. The defense in front of him remains a question mark, but 18 caused turnovers in the “W” over Colorado is definitely something to build on.
3. Lyle Thompson – F – Georgia Swarm
The only thing keeping Lyle out of No. 2 in the power rankings is that Aaron Bold was not in net when the Swarm upset the defending NLL champs on Saturday.
Other players have more points with an extra game in-hand, but for Thompson to deliver the way he did against that Rush defense really stands out. There was also additional pressure for L.T. to perform as Georgia was without the offensive weaponry of Jesse King and transition specialist Joel White.
He’s tied for seventh in the league for points, scooped up double digit loose balls, added four power play assists, and a short-handed goal. Not a bad way to kick off 2017.
2. Kyle Jackson – F – Rochester Knighthawks
Wow, a rookie in the two spot after only a pair of NLL outings. After being skunked in the Knighthawks 12-5 thrashing by Toronto in the season opener, Jackson exploded versus a highly regarded New England crew.
The seventh overall pick of this past NLL draft showed off his pedigree on special teams. Both goals and eight of his 11 points came with the man-advantage.
Rochester’s roster overhaul last summer gives the 5’9’’ Jackson an opportunity to continue to be an instant difference maker. However, the team won’t have a chance to build on the momentum from the Black Wolves win until they return from the bye on Jan. 21 in Saskatchewan.
1. Rhys Duch – F – Vancouver Stealth
Rhys Duch picked up where he left off last year as he is on pace for a third straight 100-plus point season. Still in his prime at 30, Duch is surrounded by a nice offensive stable in Vancouver that forces opposing defenses to not only focus on him.
The Stealth’s third overall selection from the 2008 draft remains such a consistent threat because of his perfect combination of speed, size (5’11”, 210lbs), and durability (missing only one game over the past four years).
Having a second match-up under his belt in this young season certainly gives Duch an edge in these rankings over other usual stars like Mark Matthews, Dhane Smith, Shawn Evans, etc. It will be interesting to see how he fares in a rematch from last Friday this upcoming weekend against the always difficult Roughnecks
Corey Small – F – Vancouver Stealth
Callum Crawford – F – Colorado Mammoth
Andy McNamara has been a play-by-play commentator for the NLL on TSN, NLL.com, and world lacrosse tournaments since 2011. He’s also a sport talk host and anchor on TSN 1050 sports radio. Follow on twitter @AndyMc81