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Buffalo wins Game 2 15-13 to clinch Back-to-Back Titles; Byrne is Finals MVP

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Top 20 Players in the NLL Semifinals

We have reached the NLL Semifinals. Four teams remain, but only one can be crowned the 2024 NLL Champion. The teams left competing for the title are comprised of some of the most talented lacrosse players in the world. Not everyone gets a chance to make it this deep into the championship hunt, but the ones that do, well, they earned the chance to potentially make this list of the Top 20 players remaining in the 2024 Playoffs.

After rewatching tons of film from the season that was and looking back at the best games of the year from the best players, and considering how players have been trending coming into the most important weekend of the season (so far), here are the Top 20 NLL players who will be competing in this weekend’s Semifinals.

 

20. John Wagner – Albany FireWolves – Defenseman

When we look back at the 2023-24 NLL season, we might say that the FireWolves’ acquisition of John Wagner at the trade deadline was the best move during the season (although Paul Dawson might have something to say about that). Wagner was arguably the best defender in the entire league during the Quarterfinals. He was the only player during the Quarterfinals to post 10+ loose ball recoveries, multiple caused turnovers, multiple blocked shots, and multiple goals – yes, on top of all of his defensive efforts, he contributed two goals. Of the four players that recorded 25+ caused turnovers during the regular season (and who are still competing in the playoffs), no one had more blocked shots than Wagner’s 17.

 

19. Patrick Kaschalk – Albany FireWolves – Defenseman

The FireWolves’ defense was one of the best in the league all season long, and, in terms of goals scored against, they were the best defensive team during the Quarterfinals. Yes, Doug Jamieson played a leading role in that, but a lot of credit for the team’s defensive success this season – they allowed the fifth-fewest shots against and the third-fewest goals against during the regular season – goes to guys like Kaschalk and the wall in front of Jamieson. Kaschalk was one of the team’s most active and difficult to shoot against defenseman on the team all season long and was one of the few FireWolves with 100+ loose ball recoveries, 10+ caused turnovers, and 10+ blocked shots.

 

18. Curtis Dickson – San Diego Seals – Offense 

Curtis Dickson is an NLL all-timer. He is a future NLL Hall of Famer and one of the greatest goal scorers we’ve ever seen. Despite missing five games in the second-half of the regular season, Dickson still managed to finish as the Seals’ third-best scorer with 27 tallies. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of Dickson over the last couple months because of his injury – he’s only played three games since March 2nd, and during the Quarterfinals’ match against Panther City Lacrosse Club, he couldn’t find the back of the net. If Dickson can get back to form and be able to give that potent Seals’ offense the boost we knew he can, he will play a significant factor in the Semifinals against Albany.

 

17. Steve Priolo – Buffalo Bandits – Defenseman

When it comes to the Bandits’ defense, Steve Priolo is Mr. Bandit. He’s been a staple of the defensive side of the ball for a long time and has been the leader of this team through thick and thin. Year after year, Priolo puts his work boots on and delivers great performance after great performance. During the regular season, Priolo was one of only two players with 120+ loose ball recoveries, 20+ caused turnovers, 20+ blocked shots, and 10+ points. Among the 10 players that finished the regular season with 20+ blocked shots, he was the only one to score five or more goals. Priolo will do whatever he needs to help his team beat the Toronto Rock and give the Bandits a chance to win back-to-back titles.

Buffalo Bandits vs Calgary Rougnecks, April 13, 2024 at KeyBank Center.

 

16. Tye Kurtz – Albany FireWolves – Offense

Tye Kurtz, in all likelihood, will end up coming in second place for this year’s Rookie of the Year Award. His 78 points was the 12th-most by a rookie in NLL history and his 112 loose ball recoveries was one of the most by a rookie forward in NLL history. Kurtz and his rookie partner in crime, Alex Simmons, have put together one of the best seasons for a rookie duo in league history. So much of that success has been the byproduct of each other’s play. During the FireWolves’ Quarterfinals match against the Halifax Thunderbirds, Kurtz’s three points and two assists tied for the most on the team, and his four loose ball recoveries tied for the most by any FireWolves forward in that game.

 

15. Mark Matthews – Toronto Rock – Offense

Before Tom Schreiber returned to the lineup from injury, Mark Matthews was the man who got the Rock offense rolling. Even once Schreiber returned to the floor, Matthews was often the guy feeding his teammates for the score. Matthews was the primary assister on 31 combined goals from Schreiber, Corey Small and Chris Boushy, and over 70% of all Matthews’ assists this season were primary assists. This is what Matthews has done his entire career, and he continued that trend in the NLL Quarterfinals. His three assists against the Rochester Knighthawks was tied for the most in the game.

 

14. Alex Simmons – Albany FireWolves – Offense

It’s hard not to say that outside of Doug Jamieson, the FireWolves go as Alex Simmons goes. The FireWolves were 0-5 during the regular season when Simmons tallied five or fewer points in game. That trend was bucked during the Quarterfinals when the FireWolves still won 9-3 despite Simmons only posting two points, but the win had much to do with his team’s defensive excellence more than anything else. Simmons’ rookie season was absolutely historic on many fronts, most notably posting the second-most points by a rookie in NLL history. If the FireWolves want to beat the Seals in the postseason (something they couldn’t do during the regular season), Simmons will need to be on his A-game all series long.

Colorado at Albany 2.17.24, Alex Simmons

13. Kyle Rubisch – San Diego Seals – Defenseman

Before Brodie Merrill came out of retirement and rejoined the Seals, Rubisch was the veteran leader holding things down on the Seals’ backend. His 29 caused turnovers ranked him fourth-best among defensemen during the regular season, and during the Quarterfinals, his dogged defending helped him earn 10 loose ball recoveries – he was one of only five players during the first round of the playoffs (who didn’t take a faceoff) that had 10+ loose balls. As a three-time NLL champion and as one of the most accomplished defenseman of all-time, Rubisch’s presence on defense has helped the Seals to one of their best defensive years in franchise history.

 

12. Brad Kri – Toronto Rock – Defenseman 

Brad Kri is Mitch de Snoo’s right-hand man. Kri and de Snoo have consistently been the best defensive duo in the NLL over the last few years. Kri covers the right side, while de Snoo works on the left. They hold down the fort in front in Nick Rose. Kri’s 36 caused turnovers was the third-best in the league during the regular season. He also added 132 loose ball recoveries and 17 blocked shots. During the Quarterfinals, Kri’s nine loose ball recoveries was the most on the Rock. He also pitched in with an assist, a blocked shot and a caused turnover. Nick Rose will have the final say of how many goals the Bandits score in the Semifinals, but the level at which Kri and de Snoo play will definitely make a significant difference Rose’s numbers.

 

11. Matt Vinc – Buffalo Bandits – Goaltender 

The Goalie G.O.A.T appears to be back in G.O.A.T. form. After battling injury and having a handful of uncharacteristic performances earlier on in the year, Matt Vinc looks ready to win another NLL Cup. He has allowed under 10 goals in three consecutive games, including nine goals in the Quarterfinals against the Georgia Swarm, and he has made 40+ saves in four of his last five games. Great defense and goaltending wins championships, and that was a big reason why the Bandits won the NLL Cup last year. If Vinc keeps playing like he’s been playing of late, he’ll be putting his team in a good spot to become repeat champs.

 

10. Ian MacKay – Buffalo Bandits – Transition

Ian MacKay is a top-tier talent. During the regular season, MacKay was the only player in the NLL to record 150+ loose ball recoveries, 25+ points, 15+ caused turnovers and 10+ blocked shots. He is one of the main pieces to a Bandits transition game that keeps that dynamic offense humming with plenty of time left on the shot clock. He will step into any position that he is asked, even if it’s one that doesn’t come naturally to him. Considering he isn’t a face-off guy, his 33.7% face-off win percentage is something to be impressed by. His three points during the Quarterfinals against Georgia was the third-most on the Bandits in the game and his seven loose ball recoveries was tied for the second best on the team in that game. MacKay will definitely be looking to push the ball in transition against a very sturdy and reliable Rock defense, which has been one of the best all year long.

 

9. Tom Schreiber – Toronto Rock – Forward 

Captain America missed a good chunk of the regular season. But, since he’s been back on the floor, he’s been the same dominant player he was before the injury. Schreiber still finished with the second-most points on the team at the conclusion of the regular season (76) and averaged more points per game than the team’s point leader, Mark Matthews. Schreiber has a rocket of an outside shot and can hit the corners with ease. His passing ability is equally, if not more impressive, and this year in particular was a special one for Schreiber – he averaged more assists per game (4.2) than any other season in his NLL career. During the NLL Quarterfinals against the Rochester Knighthawks, Schreiber was one of three players to record multiple goals and he led all forwards in loose ball recoveries with five.

HAMILTON, ONTARIO – 2023-24 National Lacrosse League Quarter Finals game between the Toronto Rock and Rochester Knighthawks at FirstOntario Center on April 27th, 2024 in Hamilton, Ontario. (Photo by Ryan McCullough / Toronto Rock)

 

8. Challen Rogers – Toronto Rock – Transition

Challen Rogers is one of the most talented all-around lacrosse players on the planet. He really can do it all. Lately, he’s been one of the Rock’s best at moving the ball around, and even led the team in scoring during the Quarterfinals with five points, including three assists. He knows how to push the ball up the floor but isn’t afraid to muck things up and cause turnovers or even block a few shots, either. As a lead by example type of player, Rogers knows when and where he needs to be on the floor – there’s a reason he’s been captain of the Rock since the 2018-19 season. He knows the Bandits better than many of his teammates, so don’t be surprised if you see Rogers laying everything on the line to finally take down his team’s biggest foe during this epic Semifinals matchup.

 

7. Mitch de Snoo – Toronto Rock – Defenseman 

Defense wins championships and Mitch de Snoo is arguably the best defender in the league right now, let alone the best defender left in the playoffs. During the regular season, de Snoo was the only player to register 150+ loose balls, 35+ caused turnovers and 15+ blocked shots. For good measure, he also stepped up his game trying to get the offense going – de Snoo posted a career-high 21 points and 13 assists this season. De Snoo has some help on offense and defense is a team effort, but there are few men in the league who can singlehandedly make an impact on defense like de Snoo.

 

6. Wes Berg – San Diego Seals – Forward

Wes Berg is often considered to be the straw that stirs the Seals’ offense; this season has been no different. He was one of only a handful of players this season to record 100+ points and less than 55 turnovers and he was one of only three players to post 40+ goals while recording less than 175 shots on goal. He has a high lacrosse IQ and makes smart decisions on the floor because of that. His championship pedigree and understanding of his role on the team makes him one of the ultimate team players. The Seals have many weapons, but shutting down Berg, the gifted facilitator, will be something the FireWolves will need to do if they want to keep the Seals from potentially running up the score.

 

Panther City Lacrosse Club v. San Diego Seals 04-05-2024 Austin Staats

5. Austin Staats – San Diego Seals – Forward

Staats is one of the most electric players in the NLL. He is an athletic bulldozer whenever he steps on the floor. During the regular season he became the first Indigenous player to reach the 50-goal mark in one season and he was one of only four players in the entire league to record 50+ goals and 50+ assists. He can beat you in so many different ways, and, as he showcased during last weekend’s Quarterfinals match against Panther City, he can fool opposing defenses even without a helmet. Good luck stopping Austin Staats at any point during the season, but right now he looks like a man on a mission.

 

4. Doug Jamieson – Albany FireWolves – Goaltender

Doug Jamieson has been the MVP of the FireWolves season. He was one of the best goalies during the regular season and he was arguably the best goaltender during the Quarterfinals – he stopped 52 of 55 shots on goal from a very talented Halifax Thunderbirds team. More than just being a top-tier goaltender this season, Jamieson has done an excellent job pushing the ball up the floor to get the offense going – his eight assists during the regular season was a career high. Jamieson has already fared well against some of the most dangerous offenses this season, but he’ll need to be at his best during the Semifinals against a Seals team that looks poised to win their first championship in franchise history.

 

3. Dhane Smith – Buffalo Bandits – Forward

In the eyes of many, Smith is the definitive choice for the #1 spot on this list. After all, he did just set an NLL record with 101 assists during the regular season and posted a league-best six assists in the Quarterfinals. There is no doubt that Smith is one of the most dominant players in the NLL, and that applies for the last few years, not just this season. With Josh Byrne and Smith paired together on the Bandits’ offense, no defense is ever safe.

 

2. Nick Rose – Toronto Rock – Goaltender

Nick Rose has been one of the best goaltenders in the NLL this season. He is a game changer in between the pipes. His 51 saves last weekend against the Rochester Knighthawks was just the latest example of how Rose can take control of a game (and a result). He is so good at tracking the ball and getting in the right position to stop most shots. Rose’s efforts have been Goaltender of the Year-worthy and he might end up taking home the hardware. If the Rock want to take down the Bandits in the postseason for the first time since 2012, Rose will need to be on his A+-game, much like he’s been for the vast majority of this season.

 

1. Josh Byrne – Buffalo Bandits – Forward

Josh Byrne was arguably the best player in the NLL during the regular season – he finished with the most points (135). During the Quarterfinals’ game against the Swarm last weekend, he picked up right where left off. Byrne tallied a postseason-best five goals and added an assist and a bunch of loose balls as well. He is an elite scorer and a dynamic playmaker who has so many tricks in his bag, it makes it very difficult to contain him. Byrne may end up winning this year’s MVP Award, but that might not be all. If he and the Bandits keep this up, there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t be in the running for NLL Finals MVP, as well.

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