Breaking down the best performers from the first half of the 2022-23 season
February 16, 2023By: Ryan Ireland
Week 11 of the NLL regular season marks the halfway point of the season. With that in mind, we wanted to take a look at players who have dominated the box score this season and have made the biggest impact for their teams. Below are four names of individuals who have a strong case for the Most Valuable Player award at the midway point of the season.
Connor Fields – F – Rochester
Connor Fields is an American born player who has had high expectations since being drafted 10th overall by San Diego in the 2018 Entry Draft. In his first season he only played two games for the Seals in their expansion year but saw his role grow exponentially in the 2019-20 season COVID shortened season. In 12 games, he recorded 44 points (18g, 26a) and 71 loose balls.
During the 2021 Entry Draft, Fields was traded from San Diego to his hometown Buffalo Bandits in exchange for a 1st round and 2nd round selection.
In his one season with the Bandits, Fields was on a stacked offensive team with the likes of Dhane Smith (we will talk about him later), Josh Byrne, Chris Cloutier, Kyle Buchanan, Chase Fraser, and Tehoka Nanticoke to name a few. While at times overshadowed, Fields was third on the team in scoring with a career high 67 points (32g, 35a). To his credit, he also scooped 97 loose balls and only had two penalty minutes all season.
To the surprise of many, Fields was left unprotected for the Desert Dogs expansion draft. A tough decision for Steve Dietrich when teams are only allowed to protect five forwards. With seemingly no hesitation, Shawn Williams drafted Fields but traded him to the then last place Knighthawks who needed help at multiple positions.
The Knighthawks have been the story of the first half of the NLL season. They started the year on a six game win streak and Fields was a major contributor to that success, now able to lead an offense for the first time in his career. In those first six games (of which Fields played in five), he was a top two point contributor in each game he played. In those five games he recorded 37 points (19g, 18a) While not the only reason for the Knighthawks success, he has been a major contributor as noted by his coach, GM, and teammates.
“Connor has had a great start to the season. Early on, you can tell how competitive of a player he is. You can see it in his game, but he is a player who prepares himself really well. His commitment to strength and conditioning allows him to utilize his skill level and high IQ. We are proud to have him on our team, and his character and work ethic fits our culture” said General Manager, Dan Carey, and Head Coach, Mike Hasen.
“I think the great thing about Connor is that he has never really gotten the opportunity to show his full gambit of skills in this league yet. With that being said, he has taken this opportunity and is running with it and I couldn’t be more happy for such a great guy that deserves it.” said team Captain, Paul Dawson.
The Knighthawks are in a three-way tie for first in the East at 7-2 with Fields sitting in fifth in points scored in his eight games played but is tied for the league lead in goals at 28 already. He is tied for the team lead with 26 assists and is scoring on a wicked 23.7% of all shots taken. Can Fields become just the second American to ever win the MVP, joining NLL Hall of Famer, Casey Powell who won the award in 2010?
Will Malcom – F – Panther City
An under the radar player who has grown leaps and bounds in his young career is Will Malcom from Panther City. A second round pick to the Colorado Mammoth, Malcom played in eight games during the COVID shortened season and recorded 11 points (4g, 7a). During Panther City’s Expansion Draft, PCLC drafted Chris Wardle from the Mammoth but traded him right back for Malcom and Jordan Trottier.
With low expectations for many around the expansion franchise, they turned many heads and their young offense proved they could compete with anyone. While much of the fanfare went to rookie, Patrick Dodds, who led the team in their inaugural season in points, Malcom was right behind him the whole way, finishing with 81 points (27g, 54a). The team finished at 7-11. Panther City General Manager, Bob Hamley summarizes the impact Malcom has had for the team, “We are extremely proud of the way Will Malcom has continued to elevate his game and he is becoming the player we knew he could be – a true number one on the floor that defenses must always know his whereabouts. He has put in the work to take his game to the next level and we are seeing that play out this year as he is one of the league’s leading scorers.”
Move forward to this season and Panther City is right in the hunt for a playoff spot in the West Conference. Malcom has been a key for Panther City’s offense, ranking in the top five of the league in points. He is scoring goals and setting up his teammates too. Rookie teammate, Jonathan Donville echos this sentiment, “I think everyone’s first thought with Will is his quickness and his ability to get to the goal, and it’s true that one on one he might be the toughest matchup in the league right now. But I think he doesn’t get enough credit for his passing and his outside shooting. He really is a complete player and an easy guy to play with, and he’s led us all year.”
Through nine games played, Malcom has 56 points to lead Panther City, has 12 power play assists for the fourth best power play in the league, and is second on the team with 56 loose balls.
While team success may determine if Malcom can contend for MVP when awards are handed out, remember, he just turned 23 back in December. The lefty forward has a high ceiling and still so much to prove in his career.
Head Coach, Tracey Kelusky has high praise for Malcom, “Will is constantly working to find ways to improve his game and his relentless work ethic has paid dividends this year as you can see how successful he has been on the floor. He also has made all of those around him better and that to me is the true characteristic of an MVP-caliber player. Every time he steps on the floor, I know the effort will be there and we expect Will to continue to rise to the challenge.”
Nick Rose – G – Toronto
When looking at the Toronto Rock, there are a few players that come to mind for who may be their leader and most valuable. Tom Schreiber leads the team in goals, assists, and points. Mitch de Snoo has been all over the floor, scoring goals, causing turnovers, blocking shots, and scooping loose balls. We decided, however, it all starts in net with veteran goaltender Nick Rose and his performances this season.
This season, Rosey is moving up the all-time stat leaders for goalies in terms of minutes, saves, and wins, but it is his collective stats and daily performances on the season that have helped him jump off the chart.
Rose currently leads the league in goals against average at 9.09, almost half a goal better than second place. He is second in save percentage at 80.58%, is top five in minutes played and total saves while in a three way tie for first place in wins at seven. His teammates reiterate that fact.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Rock defender Brad Kri. “On top of that is Nick’s consistency, that allows us never to second guess anything as defenders. We know what we’re getting from Nick every game.”
Head Coach, Matt Sawyer, reiterates the fact that this Rock team is built from the backend, lowest goals per game, lowest number of shots on goal per game, and a very high penalty kill.
“Nick and the defence are the backbone of our club,” said Rock Head Coach Matt Sawyer. “We want to carry the momentum we have now into the second half of the season and that’s where the true measure of any success, individual and team, will be.”
In the way of Rose potentially winning the award is history. He would be the first non-forward to win the award since Jeff Shattler won MVP in 2011 as a Transition player. He would be the second goalie to win the award, joining NLL Hall of Famer, Steve Dietrich, as the only netminders to win the award.
Dhane Smith – F – Buffalo
We couldn’t finish the MVP contenders without mentioning last seasons MVP, Dhane Smith, who is continually playing at the highest level for one of the best teams in the league. His first MVP saw him break the single season goal scoring record in 2016. Last season he shattered the assist record for his second MVP. If he wins this year, he may break his own single season points record (which was set in 2016 and almost broken last year) and assists record.
As fans, we may come to expect this kind of nightly performance from Smith but breaking down just how good he has been really puts his performance into perspective. The Bandits are sitting atop the East Conference in a three-way tie at 7-2 with Smith leading the charge. Through nine games, he has 72 points (on pace for a league record 144) with 53 assists (on pace to record 106, breaking his record from last season). Th next closest in terms of assists is rookie Jonathan Donville, who trails Smith by 15 halfway through the season. During the Bandits current three game win streak, he has 30 points with 20 assists. With Josh Byrne’s status up in the air after missing the teams last game, Smith could see an increase in usage as the Bandits look to keep their ranking atop the East.
Bandits General Manager, Steve Dietrich, mentions that while the stats are always there, it is the intangibles that make Smith great, “Dhane plays such a vital role in the success of our team. Obviously the points he delivers on the floor are tremendous, but he is such a great leader behind the scenes, on the bench, and in the dressing room. He takes such care of his body and is such a student of the game that he is getting better every year.”
If he wins MVP this season, he would be the first to win back-to-back MVP’s since his head coach, John Tavares, in 2000 and 2001. He would also join Tavares and Gary Gait to win three or more MVP’s in their careers. Where will Smith end up on the all-time great lists if he keeps up this pace? Only time will tell.
Others Worth Mentioning
Christian Del Bianco – G – Calgary
Christian Del Bianco is always worth the price of admission when evaluating goaltenders. He is athletic in net and makes plays few could imagine whether it is blocking a shot or lobbing a pass downfield in transition. After playing an incredible doubleheader weekend last week, he now sits first in the NLL in minutes played among goalies, tied for first in saves, leads in save percentage and is one of four goalies to have a sub-10 goals against average. Oh, he also is third on the team with 15 assists on the season, tied with the likes of Lyle Thompson, Challen Rogers and Eric Fannell.
Mitch de Snoo – D/T – Toronto
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is having another outstanding year for a Rock defense that may be the best in the NLL. Among defenseman, he is tied for the lead in goals scored (10) and has sole possession of most points at 19. Among all players, he sits at sixth in loose ball recoveries (third if you eliminated players to take over 100 face offs this season), sixth in caused turnovers, and sixth in blocked shots.
Jeff Teat – F – New York
The young phenom is picking up right where he left off in his rookie season. He sits second in point total this year with a game in hand on Dhane Smith. He is on pace for 146 points on 63 goals and 83 assists. He has either scored a goal or set up a teammate on a league best 69% of all the Riptide’s goals this season. Always the debate for Most Valuable Player comes team performance which may hold Teat back this year in the eyes of the voters.
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