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Images: Larry Palumbo

At the time of posting this puppy, the 2014 National Lacrosse League (NLL) season is less than 12 hours away from going live.

While the US Box Lacrosse Association (USBOXLA) continues to strive at developing the best American-born home grown box lacrosse talent ever produced, what is about to take place on the sport’s grandest stage will feature the absolute best lacrosse players on the planet no matter if their glowing green playing surface is made of real or fabricate blades. The 50 names that make up this list are truly today’s best-of-the-best, cream of the crop, and the filthiest talent saturated bunch of ball players presently playing the greatest game going. Lacrosse.

So, who is the greatest player currently playing the sport? Well, you’ll have to keep reading to find out, but here’s a really quick rewind of who you’ll find below…

The defending champion Rochester Knighthawks co-lead the pack with 7 players positioned inside the Top 50, their East Division rival the Toronto Rock also with 7 on the board. The rest: Buffalo (6), Calgary (6), Edmonton (6), Minnesota (6), Vancouver (5), Philadelphia (4) and finally Colorado (3).

28 forwards crack the countdown, while the other end of the floor sees 10 defensive defenders, 7 transitional defenders and 5 backstops also vying for #1.

Like the NLL’s current landscape, players from Ontario dominate the 50 with 35 bodies, British Columbia born ball players are next with 9, Natives take 4 spots and then a single American and Albertan also sneak in.

Players missing the upcoming NLL season either due to injury or other (sometimes lame) reasons that will likely keep them out for most if not the entire 2014 season were not included in the mix. Maybe next year (or maybe not).

And that’s about it. So…

… grab a slab of that rock solid fruit cake from the neighbor, steep some tea and nestle in for the only NLL primer you’re gonna need this holiday season as we countdown the Top 50 players currently gunning for the 2014 Champion’s Cup.


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50 Dhane Smith

Age: 21
Position: Transition
Team: Buffalo Bandits
The KW big man was able to sport his silky smooth mobility and equally sleek sniping prowess in his first year in the NLL. A premier pro do-everything type in the making, Smith showed he could perform at either end of the floor in the bigs, following that up with a colossal final summer for the Braves (Junior ‘A’). He should be a star pupil under new Bandito bench boss Troy Cordingley’s anticipated aggressive, one step ahead approach.
Did you know? His 24g last year led the Bandits in goal scoring, one better than 11-year vet Aaron Wilson, a fellow K-W alumn. It is the first time since Buffalo’s expansion season that a rookie led the franchise in goals, current Edmonton Rush coach and GM Derek Keenan doing it in 1992 (26g).


49 Mike Kirk

Age: 31
Position: Defender
Team: Rochester Knighthawks
Church mouse quiet but every Sunday consistently good, Kirk has often gone unnoticed when it comes to praising the game’s best defensive defenders, but he really is that top of the mountain good. His immensely effective shutdown skills, calming nature and ability to keep some of the best forwards stone-cold silent cement Kirk has one of the sport’s most polished pure defensive workers.
Did you know? Last year Kirk helped spearhead a defensive unit that ranked eighth all-time (165) in team goals allowed (during a 16 game regular season). It’s not his first time either, having started for a Boston Blazers’ defense that ranked second (155) and sixth (162) all-time too. Coincidence? Not for a second.


48 Zack Greer

Age: 27
Position: Forward
Team: Edmonton Rush
He’s flourished playing under Derek Keenan in Edmonton, Greer coming off arguably his biggest impact pro season to date. His lighting quick release, improved off-ball game and continued clutch touch (only Curtis Dickson scored more game winners in 2013) has allowed Greer to establish the money reputation many felt he’d eventually achieve when drafted third overall in 2009.
Did you know? Of NCAA DI’s all-time highest goal scorers, six of the top eight hail from the Great White North, Greer still number one on the list with 248g, which includes his time at Bryant. The other legends include Stan Cockerton (193), Gary Gait (192), Mike French (191), Merrick Thomson (188) and Tom Marechek (182).


47 Johnny Powless

Age: 20
Position: Forward
Team: Rochester Knighthawks
Ultimately traded for Shawn Evans (and an additional pick) before the 2011 entry draft, Powless has been one of the most prolific pro teens in the NLL since, well, Evans played as a 19-year-old with the same K’Hawks franchise five years earlier. Wizard worthy stick skills, Powless added a physical element last year that made him even more ghoulishly good. Break out the shades when reviewing this soon to be all the time all-star’s resume.
Did you know? Powless won a Champion’s Cup in both his rookie season and second year in the league thanks to Rochester’s recent back-to-back W’s. It’s the first time a rookie has cashed in with two Cups in his first two years in the NLL since Blaine Manning, Sandy Chapman and Carter Livingstone did it with the Rock starting in 2002.


46 Stephan Leblanc

Age: 27
Position: Forward
Team: Toronto Rock
His numbers have been dripping drastically since that rookie breakout season when he flirted with multiple single season offensive rookie records. His nose to the grind stone work off-ball, 4g effort against the Iroquois in Montreal and leading man role in Oakville save him from slipping outside of the Top 50.
Did you know? As with the declining scoring digits mentioned above, Leblanc’ shooting has severely simmered too, last year taking 53 fewer shots than what he fired during that first year in the bigs. Do the Rock need him shooting more? In 2013 when Leblanc took 10 or more shots in a game, the Rock were 5-1. In games he scored 2 or more times they were an even more impressive 7-1. Toronto finished 10-6 during last year’s regular season. Let him rip it Lovell.


DIGITS: Rookie Roller Coaster Rides

The graphic below looks at some of the best-ever NLL rookie scoring sensations (total regular season points) and what they’ve done 3 years after that initial breakout campaign. While elder statesmen like Colin Doyle and John Grant didn’t have the luxury of a 16-game regular season to play inside, we tossed ‘em in anyways simply to track their 4 year progression.

45 Sid Smith

Age: 27
Position: Defender
Team: Rochester Knighthawks
Take a look at a team profile pic of Sid Smith when he was first drafted into the NLL and then one of him hoisting the Champion’s Cup in 2013. He’s gone from a young, slightly pudgy, promising pup to a physically fitter, rug responsible, dependable defensive leader that is stockpiling rings faster than Reebok could high tail it outta here. Some still criticize Smith for not bringing any of those numerical extras other defenders in this league possess. “I can’t really hear what Jeremy says, because I’ve got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears.” – Patrick Roy responding to Jeremy Roenick, and what Smith should be tweaking and then memorizing. A born leader and a born winner.
Did you know? Smith and his Rochester teammates Cody Jamieson and Stephan Keogh are the only players currently in the league with a Champion’s Cup, Mann Cup, Minto Cup and NCAA DI National Championship title under their belts. Elite Co.


44 Nick Rose

Age: 25
Position: Goalie
Team: Toronto Rock
It took about a year for him to go from savior to scapegoat in Toronto (in fans’ eyes at least, players and coaches not so much). He was deemed the solution in 2012 when the Rock traded for him mid-season, but Rose was yanked multiple times late last year and took some online heat for his effort. Thing is, he was Goalie of the Year material good during TO’s first 11, one of the biggest in-game difference makers on the Rock roster. How soon they forget.
Did you know? Only Tyler Richards was forced to withstand more 50+ shot games than Rose did last year (regular season + playoffs). The Rock were outshot by their opponents 10 (out of 16 regular season games) times in 2013. During those previously mentioned first 11 – when Rose was very often lights out good – they were outgunned in 9 of those games while Rose backstopped them to a league best 8-3 record at that point in the season. Toronto goaltending legend Bob Watson never dealt with the amount of regular season rubber Rose saw last year (767 shots on goal).


43 Mark Steenhuis

Age: 33
Position: Forward
Team: Buffalo Bandits
Not many players in the history of this league have punched the kind of full-time minutes Steenhuis has logged firing out both the front and back doors. Last year he played a bunch in Buffalo’s own end, back to a blazing two-way force versus an offense-only shooter. Could the Bandits’ almost dead last ranked scoring cast have used Mark’s chops up top (we’ll find out this year)? He’s still one of the best baiters and most athletically creative magicians in the league, a value add no matter where you plop him. It’s skilled gas tanks like Steenhuis that should see their stock rise in an NLL that has two less game day runners in 2014.
Did you know? Although Wikipedia and various lacrosse online resources often confirm Steenhuis as being drafted in the first round of the 2002 entry draft by the Columbus Landsharks, he wasn’t. The longtime Bandit was actually drafted 25th overall by the Albany Attack in 2000, traded to Columbus in a 5-for-1 (+ 2 draft picks) deal that landed the Attack Nic Trudeau, and then traded to Buffalo for then backup Kenny Montour and a third rounder. Replace Mark’s name with a later voided selection of Rory Glaves in ’02.


42 Jeff Gilbert

Age: 30
Position: Defender
Team: Minnesota Swarm
Blossoming into a defensive leader in Minnesota after being dealt for dispersal steal Josh Sanderson – other pieces going both ways – Gilbert is one of the most relied on players anywhere on the floor for the Swarm, who continue to get a steady shutdown presence and spark on the press from one of their only Champion’s Cup winners. The recently added Mike Hobbins is their second and only Cup winner outside of Gilbert on their roster.
Did you know? He played on Robert Morris University’s DI lacrosse and hockey teams, and it was actually on the ice that Gilbert appeared to have the more promising future. Gilbert scored 2g in the third period of the program’s first-ever NCAA DI game, a 3-1 win over Canisius College. His 91 PIM still stand as the school’s single season record too.


41 Steve Priolo

Age: 24
Position: Defender
Team: Buffalo Bandits
No one climbed the depth charts in Buffalo or anywhere else in the NLL at the rate Priolo did last year. In just a few short years he went from a player many looked at as just a good fist-to-face smasher to a highly effective pure defender, a nightmare to be matched up with, and he even found a spot on Team Canada’s Heritage Cup side. In 2014 he’ll link-up with another checker that escaped a fight-only rep to become a top defensive defender, the Bandits nabbing Rory Smith in the off-season. The new Smash Brothers? The bruise count in Buffalo could be at an all-time high, First Niagara once again the home of the hematoma thanks to those two.
Did you know? He grew up playing lacrosse in St. Catharines but after putting on some serious size in high school, Priolo developed into a pretty decent basketball player, thriving at Holy Cross Secondary. After securing a spot at U of Windsor, Priolo instead hopped back to the concrete courts of box and the rest as they say is histoire.


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40 Josh Sanderson

Age: 36
Position: Forward
Team: Toronto Rock
His reputation as one of the NLL’s all-time greatest dishers was long solidified, but last year Sanderson bounced back in the goal column, netting almost 30 for the first time since 2010 when he busted through the 100pt barrier. While his best work is more special teams centric these days, Sanderson was the Rock’s highest goal scoring left hander last year, snapping Stephan Leblanc’s 3-year lefty reign.
Did you know? Sanderson is one of six players on the Rock’s 2014 opening day roster that had previously been dealt or released by Toronto but brought back in recent years. The others include Colin Doyle, Pat Merrill, Sandy Chapman, Nick Rose (cut after being drafted ) and Damon Edwards (also cut after being draft).


39 Ryan Dilks

Age: 23
Position: Defender
Team: Edmonton Rush
He might not have the same statistical extras that teammates Brett Mydske or Chris Corbeil bring to the table, but behind only two-time Defender of the Year Kyle Rubisch, Dilks might be Edmonton’s next best defense-first runner on the roster.
Did you know? Dilks was one of eight Six Nations Arrows prospects scooped up in the 2010 NLL entry draft. Those players included Cody Jamieson (1), Wayne Van Every (21), Kedoh Hill (29), Holden Vyse (37), Mike McNamara (40), Marty Hill (44), Jimmy Purves (47) and Dilks (50), making 2010 the most Arrow heavy draft ever. And although only the runt of the litter (on that day at least), Dilks has the most games played (44) behind only Jamieson (47) from that group.


38 Kyle Sorensen

Age: 27
Position: Defender
Team: Vancouver Stealth
When it comes to on-floor brains and one step ahead of you skills, they don’t come much more in-game nerdy than the Stealth captain. He’s quickly developed into one of the top leaders in the sport but has also become one of the NLL’s best forced turnover guys too. Brains and brawn.
Did you know? Kyle and lil’ brother Brock became the (hard to believe) 10th brother tandem to be selected in the NLL entry draft’s first round – both second overall picks. The other bros include Frank & Joey Resetarits, Ilija & Alex Gajic, Pat & Brodie Merrill, Scott & Shawn Evans, Peter & Daryl Veltman, Bill & Zack Greer, Casey & Ryan Powell, Cam & Cory Bomberry, and of course the most famous brother duo of all, Gary & Paul Gait.


37 Mike Poulin

Age: 28
Position: Goalie
Team: Calgary Roughnecks
Constant short-man situations (Calgary were a man or more down last year 107 times while the rest of the league averaged just 75 penalty kills all year) and inconsistent, typically undisciplined play in front of him didn’t give Poulin the support most other starters got in 2013. Almost 30% of the Roughnecks’ goals allowed were when they were outnumbered on the rug. Scene stealing swats (made TSN’s Top 100 plays of 2013) and an increased ability to regroup after a shoulda-woulda, maintains Poulin’s place as a top shot stopper.
Did you know? He’s led all goalies in assists over the past two seasons combined, a bullet outlet coupled with a Calgary cast that can press hard. Last year’s 11a had him ranked tenth in Roughneck point production and also left him with more apples than over 70% of the NLL. Seriously.


36 John Tavares

Age: 45
Position: Forward
Team: Buffalo Bandits
Just wait, hear us out. Tavares is without a doubt the greatest player to ever play in this league. Better than the Gaits, Grant, Veltman and a severely small handful of others you could feebly protest should ever appear in the same sentence as Tavares and the word greatest. Between his body finally showing the wear and tear most of us started wincing from a decade earlier and an in-game low impact in 2013, Tavares was simply no longer one of the league’s absolute best over the past 365 days. Still better than most which is why he appears here in our rundown, but currently not the upper echelon greatest.
Did you know? This past summer was the first year since 1989 that Tavares did not play any Senior ‘A’ lacrosse in Canada. In ’89 he played a single game for the Senior Orangville Northmen while still playing full-time Junior ‘A’ lacrosse in Mississauga. Since then he’s played in 364 regular season Senior games, 236 provincial post-season contests, and probably around 50 Mann Cup matches.


DIGITS: Gimmie those PP minutes

Depending on how he’s physically feeling on game days, most are anticipating that a majority of Tavares’ time this upcoming season will be played when Buffalo sweaters outnumber the rest on the floor – the power-play. If last year was any indication, expect the best-ever to get most of his scoring done as an extra attacker. Below, check out what players (who hit the net at least 50 times) did most of their scoring when the other team was shorthanded.

Player Team
GP
G
PPG
PPG%
John Tavares Buffalo Bandits
12
14
7
50%
Garrett Billings Toronto Rock
16
30
15
50%
Sean Pollock Colorado Mammoth
16
15
7
47%
Cody Jamieson Rochester Knighthawks
16
28
13
46%
Kevin Ross Philadelphia Wings
16
20
9
45%
Brett Bucktooth Washington Stealth
16
16
7
44%
Dean Hill Washington Stealth
16
20
8
40%
Kiel Matisz Minnesota Swarm
16
29
11
38%
Josh Sanderson Toronto Rock
16
29
11
38%
Shawn Evans Calgary Roughnecks
16
32
12
38%
Dane Dobbie Calgary Roughnecks
13
40
15
38%


35 Jesse Gamble

Age: 25
Position: Transition
Team: Toronto Rock
A decent everyday pro defender, it’s Gamble’s stat sheet extras, relentless work ethic and Usain Bolt blazing boots that made him one of this past year’s top transitional defenders, the first two-way ball player that has come close to mirroring Steve Toll’s net-to-net sprints at the Air Canada Centre.
Did you know? Gamble’s 108lb last year was the first time a Rock player collected 100 or more loosies since Rob Marshall (116) and Chris Driscoll (104) exceeded that mark in 2009 (and that’s including face-off guys). His 9g in 2013 were almost double the amount of Toronto’s best defensive goal scorer a season earlier (Stephan Hoar had 5g in 2012). The Rock, who want more offensive production flying out of their own end this upcoming season, will need more than just Gamble connecting on the scoreboard to check mark that goal.


34 Kiel Matisz

Age: 24
Position: Forward
Team: Minnesota Swarm
Is Matisz the next Dan Dawson? Way too early praise, obviously, but hear us out. They’re both 6’5” and difficult to defend or match up against effectively. Both started out the back door as rookies before being given the nod to stay up front where their games boomed. Both are unusually unselfish and great team guys that will do whatever their boss needs from them in absolutely any situation. Too early to crown him the next Dawson, but damn, great start in the big leagues.
Did you know? His shooting percentage in last year’s playoffs, obviously his first being a rookie and all, was all-star vet good, maybe better. Matisz rifled 8 shots at the net against the Rock and Knighthawks, and get this, he buried it 5 times. Green light this kid.


DIGITS: Rookie of the Year Recount

Should last year’s rookie race have been as slanted to Mark Matthews as it seemed to appear? There’s no denying he was the most dominant offensive first-year freakshow, but was he the most complete? Kiel Matisz ranked among the absolute best in most rookie statistical breakdowns, both offensively and defensively. See where he sat in the major first-year digits at either end of the floor in 2013.

Goals Assists Shooting Percentage Forced Turnovers Loose Balls
Matthews 38 Jackson 39 Matisz 23% Garrison 21 Cupido 101
Matisz 29 Matisz 33 Knight 19% Cupido 20 Matisz 70
Smith 24 Matthews 31 Jackson 18% Crepinsek 18 Manley 67
Jackson 24 Knight 27 Matthews 16% Sorensen 10 Belton 56
Knight 24 Smith 20 Smith 16% Matisz 8 Jackson 54


33 Ryan Ward

Age: 33
Position: Forward
Team: Philadelphia Wings
He’s reaching his mid-30’s, but has Ward’s value ever been higher? He matched his career best in regular season point production last year (75pt), only five players set-up more goals than him in 2013 (54a), and his leadership within Edmonton’s offensive cast seemed critical to most outsiders. Now in a Wings’ sweater after a surprise free agency jump, Ward goes from helping lead one of last year’s highest scoring sides (the Rush’s 203g were third best in the league) to the NLL’s statistically worst offenses (the Wings’ 170g ranked dead last). Can he next level another lineup? It’ll be significantly more difficult this time around.
Did you know? Ward was drafted 3rd overall in the 2003 entry draft by the same Philadelphia Wings team he has recently found his way back to. Only two other players from that draft class (83 players were drafted) are on active rosters heading into the 2014 NLL season – Jeff Moleski & Kyle Sweeney. There’s also Scott Ranger – taken two spots after Ward – who enters the year on Calgary’s PUP list.


32 Drew Westervelt

Age: 28
Position: Forward
Team: Colorado Mammoth
Will Westervelt succeed in an unfamiliar, already star studded offensive cast in Denver? One thing he showed in Philaldelphia was his ability to adapt and tweak his game no matter who was on the roster. The Wings front door has been of the rotating variety, but Westervelt was by far their most consistent presence. His trade out of US-born friendly Philadelphia was maybe this past off-season’s most shocking outbound anywhere, and that’s strictly from a statistical standpoint. Forget where guys are born, Westervelt in one of the indoor game’s elite no matter where he grew up throwing against bricks.
Did you know? If Westervelt can match his 30g total from last year – a pretty likely scenario considering he’s gone 30, 36, 27, 32 and 34 over the previous five seasons – he’ll move into a knot for the sixth highest all-time American-born NLL goal scorer (regular season and playoffs). He’ll pass Chris Panos after his sixth snipe and get tied up with a couple GOATs in Mark Millon and Tim Soudan if he can hit that 30. Ahead of them are Roy Colsey (206), Brian Langtry (258), Kevin Finneran (262), Jake Bergey (269) and a (maybe) still counting Casey Powell (304).


31 Mike Grimes

Age: 27
Position: Defender
Team: Vancouver Stealth
Combative, composed and clearly one of the top extra mustard defenders playing indoors today, Grimes finally got a sniff of NLL recognition after being named to their Second Team All-Pro and finishing runner-up as DOY in 2013, long ignored when it came to high level praise in the pros.
Did you know? He played in the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League for the Peterborough Bees with current Stealth teammate Kyle Sorensen and last year’s NLL MVP Shawn Evans. Grimes also played with current NHLer Ryan Hamilton on that Bees team. Hamilton had previously been skating for the Toronto Maple Leafs & Marlies before Dallas Eakins signed him to a contract with the Edmonton Oilers this past summer.


30 Lewis Ratcliff

Age: 32
Position: Forward
Team: Vancouver Stealth
All he does is score and he does it a helluva lot. Ratcliff shelved yet another 30+ goal campaign during the Stealth’s Everett swan song, still one of the most natural goal scoring talents in lacrosse. The Stealth’s master marksman regularly engages the rest of the Stealth offense and is a better playmaker than he’s usually given credit for. But make no mistake, he’s the most lethal with a ball lodged in his pocket and ripping top cheese all night long.
Did you know? Ratcliff has vastly cleaned up his possession game over the past three seasons. In 2011 he ranked 2nd in the NLL with 59 turnovers, behind only Athan Ianucci’s 60. Last year he cut that number almost in half with just 30 giveaways and a roster’s worth of runners ahead of him in that less than glamorous league-wide countdown. League MVP Shawn Evans set a new single season record last year with 68 turnovers.


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29 Cory Vitarelli

Age: 28
Position: Forward
Team: Rochester Knighthawks
Vitarelli might be the best complimentary player in the NLL today. Not only does he add a secondary pop behind the likes of Jamieson and Dawson, but few teams if any in the NLL get as many secondary chances like the Knighthawks thanks to Vitarelli’s fearless ball hounding skills. Of the 22 full-time forwards that dropped 25g or more last year – a list that includes Vitarelli – only former MVP Jeff Shattler and 2012 Rookie of the Year Adam Jones averaged just a fraction (literally just a few decimal places) more LBs than the back-to-back Cup winner.
Did you know? He is the only current player that was property of the Knighthawks previous to Curt Styres and Co. purchasing the franchise (May ’08). Everyone else currently with the team were either drafted, signed or traded for while Styres ruled the Hawks’ roost. Due to an impressive Canadian University hockey career, however, Vitarelli only played his first season in the NLL post-Styres purchase.


28 Kasey Beirnes

Age: 33
Position: Forward
Team: Toronto Rock
Drafted directly out of Junior ‘B’ (Elora Mohawks) and straight into a Columbus Landsharks jersey – a rare route for any prospect – Beirnes has often gone criminally unnoticed playing behind high profile sharp shooters in any of his 4 pro stops. But my Lord what a shooter he is himself, owning last year’s most impressive shooting % in the league. Leading the Rock in goal scoring last year (most coming evened up), Beirnes needed just 114 shots to finish with 31g while teammate Garrett Billings required 100 more looks to bury one less. That just happened (several months ago).
Did you know? Since the 2008 season, when he first played for the Rock, no player has scored more goals in a Toronto sweater than Beirnes, who has 140g in the regular season and an extra 16g in the post-season. Not Manning, Sanderson, Doyle or anyone else. Boom boom.


DIGITS: THE BOOM BOOM BLASTERS

Back to Beirnes being last year’s most accurate shot taker, which is pure fact and zero fiction. No one found the back of the opposition’s net at the rate Toronto’s always forgotten about fifth option did in 2013. Who were last year’s most precise goal producers?

Player Team
GP
Goals
Shots
%
Kasey Beirnes Toronto Rock
16
31
114
27%
Cory Vitarelli Rochester Knighthawks
15
25
103
24%
Dane Dobbie Calgary Roughnecks
13
40
167
24%
Callum Crawford Minnesota Swarm
14
32
134
24%
Kiel Matisz Minnesota Swarm
16
29
127
23%
Jordan McBride Colorado Mammoth
14
24
107
22%
Mike Accursi Rochester Knighthawks
13
18
83
22%
Rhys Duch Washington Stealth
16
45
211
21%
Josh Sanderson Toronto Rock
16
29
138
21%


27 Shawn Williams

Age: 39
Position: Forward
Team: Buffalo Bandits
He’s not Tavares-old, although Williams is inching dangerously close to the big four-O, but seriously, who cares. While he’s no longer required to be the leading man type in the NLL, even though he easily led the Bandits in points last year, Williams is still a veteran offensive leader that can adapt to any front-door fleet. Auto hall pass whenever he decides to call it a career.
Did you know? Williams has been his team’s total points leader for the past three seasons, in three different cities in fact (Buffalo, Edmonton and Rochester), and even more impressively led his team’s assists column for the previous six years. He also pumped in 103pts with the Brooklin Redmen this past summer, making him the oldest player in the history of OLA Senior ‘A’ lacrosse to score 100pts or more. The last time summer scoring legend Tavares scored in excess of 99pts he was a very young and hip 32-year-olds.


26 Tyler Hass

Age: 28
Position: Transition
Team: Minnesota Swarm
While his teammate Jordan MacIntosh was without a doubt last year’s best offensive heavy two-way player – named the NLL’s TPOY – you could easily argue that Hass, who played undoubtedly his best pro campaign to date in the absence of a knee blown Andrew Suitor, was tops screaming out of the defensive end. A stock rising leader that was dynamite good for a young Minny club that relied heavily on Hass’ relentless drive, determination and ability to score those back breakers (just ask the Rock) that completely flip the script. He was potentially even better playing for Victoria all the way to the Mann Cup. Nasty stuff all year round from a very underhyped workhorse.
Did you know? After the retirement of Richard Morgan (6’8”) this past summer, the 6’6” Hass only has one player left in the league to look up to. Edmonton Rush backup goalie Brodie MacDonald stands an imposing 6’8”.


25 Chris Corbeil

Age: 25
Position: Defender
Team: Edmonton Rush
Thank the Lord for last year’s NHL strike. Without it, not only would Corbeil not be on this list, he might not even be playing pro lacrosse. Signed by the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder (whose barn was being toyed with as a home for the Stealth back in 2009), Corbeil was on the ice full-time before he was dominoed down the depth charts when NHLers started looking for last minute work. Instead, Corbeil came back to the NLL’s green carpets and did a pretty good vintage Billy Dee Smith impersonation, without a doubt one of today’s best pound-for-pound defenders.
Did you know? He’s one of five current Rush players that went pro at the 2009 entry draft in Edmonton today. Zack Greer (drafted by Minnesota, later traded to Edmonton), Corey Small, Dane Stevens and Brett Mydske were also selected that draft year.


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24 Geoff Snider

Age: 32
Position: Transition
Team: Calgary Roughnecks
His fists-only reputation that took away from everything else he did so well is long behind him. While he still steams and simmers in the sin bin more than most (led the NLL in PIM last year, again), Snider still dominates the dot to historic levels, plays both ends of the floor like the game was meant to be played, adds some always appreciated goal scoring gravy, and is still one of the toughest SOBs in the sport.
Did you know? Snider has only been beaten at the face-off circle (lower than 50% FO%) two times over the past four years. Who beat him? Lil’ bro Bobby Snider did it last year and former Endicott College (DIII) middie & still professional MMA fighter John Ortolani, who played just 4 games over his short NLL career, edged him out in 2010 while suiting up for the Boston Blazers (miss those jerseys).


23 Brett Mydske

Age: 25
Position: Defender
Team: Edmonton Rush
He may play second fiddle to Kyle Rubisch in Edmonton, but Mydske is one of the most complete defenders in the sport today. Defensively Mydske has quickly matured into a responsible, shot limiting, turnover forcing (behind only Rubish in FT league-wide) difference maker that was uber important to the Rush’s bottom line. Kick in that offensive pop, quality decision making on the press and increased leadership, and few have the amount of tools Mydske carries with him these days.
Did you know? With Jimmy Quinlan retired and Ryan Ward taking his services to Philadelphia, at only 25, Mydske is now the active franchise leader in regular season games played (63gp). Crazy right?


22 Mark Matthews

Age: 23
Position: Forward
Team: Edmonton Rush
Is Matthews the offensive extraordinaire in the making the Rush franchise has been sacrificing odd celebrity (Randy Couture, Brooke Burke, Dennis Rodman, etc…) appearances for since Year 1? His 38g in his rookie year were the third most ever by a first-year pro (only Paul Gait and Ryan Painter rank ahead of him) and also one better than Chris Gill’s since forgotten single season franchise record. With Ryan Ward gonzo and Corey Small on the shelf long term, whether he’s cemented his savior status or not, the Rush need him to be even better than he already was during his historic rookie run. As much moola as they’ve burned on celebrities showing up on game day, the one thing Edmonton can’t afford is a Matthews sophomore slump.
Did you know? After Edmonton’s disappointing nail-biting loss to Toronto to open last year’s regular season, the team went 6-0 when Matthews poured in a hat-trick or more. Did we mention they need this guy to produce? No pressure.


21 Kevin Crowley

Age: 25
Position: Forward
Team: Philadelphia Wings
Only always MVP contenders Rhys Duch and John Grant scored a higher percentage of their team’s end-of-season goal tally than what the Philadelphia Wings got from Crowley, whose 34g in 2013 made up 20% of Philly’s regular season offensive output. He’s one of the last men standing after that off-season mega-bomb that went off inside Philly’s forward frontline (Westervelt, Rabil, Mundorf and Buchanan out… Ward, Kelusky and Saunders in… Wiles in then seemingly out) and will likely need to score even more to help a Wings’ team that was already ranked dead-last a year ago. Only Grant, Duch and Curtis Dickson have scored more goals than Crowley over the past two years.
Did you know? He is the only player taken with the first overall pick in the NLL’s entry draft and the MLL’s collegiate draft. This past summer Crowley was the first Canadian named the MLL’s MVP since Grant in 2008, making him, Grant and Gary Gait the only Canadian-born players to be named the outdoor pro game’s best.


DIGITS: ROSTER RETENTION AND RECYCLING

Crowley is just one of ten returning Wings in Philadelphia this year, by far this season’s smallest comeback class. Maybe even more concerning might be the amount of goals lost from last year and the very few recently brought in. In the shocking nine players the Wings lost either through trade, release, holdout, or whatever it is that’s going on there, the franchise lost 83g from a season ago. Already ranked last in team scoring in 2013, that damaging drop-off in production was almost 50% of their entire offense last year! Through the addition of veterans likes Ryan Ward, Tracey Kelusky and second-year still pro prospect Kyle Buchanan, the trio brings with them 29 2013 in the books goals. That stingy inbound tally is hardly a visible dent in the 83 they need to match let alone the close to 20-25 they’ll need to tack on to even last year’s total to keep up in a competitive East Division. Philly will also throw six rookies into the fire this year, most in a defensive role however. Below, check out how this year’s opening day active rosters are made up for each of the NLL’s nine teams; back again (a returning vet already with the club), newbie (an off-season acquired NLL vet) and fresh meat (straight up rookies).


20 Adam Jones

Age: 24
Position: Forward
Team: Colorado Mammoth
Many felt he was too undersized, injury prone and damaged (just heard it again the other day believe it or not) to succeed in the NLL, yet Jones has been one of the top performing forwards in the NLL over the past (and his only) two years in the big leagues, missing all of zero games and scoring over 60g. The best part about his approach might be his willingness to roll up his sleeves, get his hands dirty and play more physical and aggressive than virtually any other full-time shooter today. Those Frank Selke worthy LB and FT numbers are valuable extras few forwards are capable of in the sport.
Did you know? The fathers of Jones and Colorado Mammoth teammate John GrantBrian Jones & John Grant Sr. – both played on the Team Canada side that won gold at the 1978 World Championships in Manchester, England. Canada upset the Americans 17-16 in OT. Philadelphia Wings owner Mike French was named the tournament’s MVP.


19 Brandon Miller

Age: 34
Position: Goalie
Team: Philadelphia Wings
For many years Miller was considered a great backup but a less than an ideal starter. Really. He got little time to prove his worth playing behind the likes of Anthony Cosmo and Rob Blasdell (and Bob Watson during his summers) and seemed destined for a life as an NLL bench concierge. After being moved to the Wings, Miller’s increased playing time has translated to MVP quality performances, maybe the most relied on minute muncher and shot stopper over the past four seasons. Without him Philadelphia does not make the playoffs over the past two seasons, bringing a consistency and composure between their pipes the franchise hasn’t had since Dallas Eliuk.
Did you know? His 556 saves last year (the third best recorded single season total in Wings franchise history) moved Miller into the NLL’s Top 10 all-time regular season saves leaders. In the 10 spot and sitting at 4,060 career saves, as long as the Wings sign him (days before the season, team and player were in an odd contract dispute) and he starts at least half of Philly’s games (which might be an issue after Evan Kirk was brought in) he should pass Curtis Palidwor (4,075), Blasdell (4,287) and Gee Nash (4,328).


18 Dane Dobbie

Age: 27
Position: Forward
Team: Calgary Roughnecks
It’s tough to standout inside Calgary’s star studded forward juggernaut these days. With Curtis Dickson shooting the lights out, Shawn Evans winning MVP nods and Jeff Shattler doing a bit of, well, everything, would it surprise you if we said that Dobbie is still the best pure goal poacher on their roster? While Rhys Duch led the league in goal scoring last year, it was Dobbie’s hat-trick-and-a-bit per game average that was tops in the NLL (missing 3 games thanks to a tweaked knee). Few are as elusive, determined and a pain in your arse antagonizing as Calgary’s scoreboard crippler.
Did you know? While many consider him a British Columbia born product (the NLL’s media guide even listing Dobbie as being from Burnaby), Dobbie is actually from Elora, Ontario and was a pretty decent emerging Junior ‘B’ ball player prior to making B.C. his full-time home. Before B.C., Dobbie spent time with the Elora Mohawks and suited up alongside current NLLers like Jamie Rooney, Rob Marshall and Jamie Lincoln there.


17 Andrew Suitor

Age: 24
Position: Transition
Team: Minnesota Swarm
A multi-game suspension and blown knee stole his 2013, a season that looked like it could have been something special for Suitor. He put his impression on the short-lived (5gp) campaign (and Geoff Snider’s face) with the same versatility, work ethic and leadership that made him the league’s TPOY 365 days earlier. The Paul Bunyan doppleganger shares not only the folklore’s trademark whiskers but a much more important trait as well – “a man of unusual skill”. Few in the NLL do what Suitor is capable of and even fewer do it with the same style, class and moxy the forever Hornhead does anytime he hits the rink.
Did you know? When Suitor scores, more often than not, the Swarm chalk up a W. Minnesota is 10-4 when their cherished captain finds the back of the net during his three seasons in the NLL.


16 Ryan Benesch

Age: 28
Position: Forward
Team: Buffalo Bandits
Leading Minnesota in scoring in 2013 turned out to be Benesch’s surprising swift ticket out of the state. He was sent to the Bandits over the off-season with K-W homie Andrew Watt as the Swarm do some extremely early fishing for the likes of Jesse King and Brody Eastwood after scoring a couple future first rounders in the exchange. What King or Eastwood (or whoever they end up nabbing) just simply won’t do over the next couple seasons, however, is score the 100 or so goals Benesch is bound to bury in Buffalo while Minnesota waits for their ROI. As long as Buffalo’s potentially eccentric forward cast play nice, 2014 should be a big year for the former first overall find.
Did you know? Benesch played with current Buffalo GM Steve Dietrich for a short time in Edmonton during the 2009 season. Dietrich also played in the NLL with current Bandit vets John Tavares, Billy Dee Smith, Mark Steenhuis and Derek Suddons. No other GM in the league today can make that same claim.


15 Brodie Merrill

Age: 32
Position: Transition
Team: Philadelphia Wings
A concussion sidelined Merrill for the first time in many years (he had only missed one regular season game in his 111 starts before 2013), the Wings losing both battles (by a combined 11 goals) when their captain was forced to painfully watch from the press box. Merrill plays an old school brand of lacrosse most players today don’t have the gas tank or in-action IQ to pull off, the only player over the last decade plus to match Jim Veltman’s hall of fame fundamentals. Few non-Cup winners in any sport are held in the same high regard as Merrill, one of the most important and influential players presently playing lacrosse.
Did you know? Over his 8-year career Merril hasn’t found himself suiting up for many successful franchises. Only once in Edmonton and twice in Portland was Merrill playing for an above .500 club, his respective sides going just 59-69 in regular season contests. Philadelphia, who have only a single above .500 regular season record over the past 12 years, might not be the best place to reverse his fortunes, especially in the playoffs, where the Wings have had even less luck. Between their last playoff win and their 2014 season opener, 4,628 days will have passed.


DIGITS: TODAY’S BEST CUPLESS CRUSADERS

Merril isn’t the only great, battled tested veteran currently playing and still searching for his first Cup in the NLL. He isn’t even the most deprived on his own team! Below check out some beauties still looking to take their first Champion’s Cup sip, including the amount of times they hit the floor during both the regular and post-season.

Player Current Club
Years
Regular
Playoffs
Brandon Miller Philadelphia Wings
13
174
6
Chad Culp Buffalo Bandits
11
146
6
Ryan Ward Philadelphia Wings
10
144
9
Casey Powell Colorado Mammoth
10
132
13
Brodie Merrill Philadelphia Wings
8
125
9
Kyle Sweeney Philadelphia Wings
9
119
2
Mike Poulin Calgary Roughnecks
7
108
6
Callum Crawford Minnesota Swarm
8
105
8
Geoff Snider Calgary Roughnecks
7
104
6
Ryan Benesch Buffalo Bandits
7
103
7

Previous to last year, recent Cup winner Dan Dawson would have headlined that list, winning his first title with Rochester a season ago. Post-2013 Dawson had played in 171 regular season games, 15 more in the playoffs, and lost three Cup finals representing both Arizona and Portland.


14 Dan Dawson

Age: 32
Position: Forward
Team: Rocehster Knighthawks
A slow start while he tried to figure out his role in Rochester had many forgetting what Dawson was capable of, but a strong second half (averaged 5.5pts/game) and some special play in the post-season (see his heroic first round magic vs. Philadelphia) keep him in the conversation as one of today’s absolute best. No longer required to be the central piece of an unproven, Cupless roster, Dawson is now operating within a well oiled post-season game winning machine in Rochester, capturing his first NLL title as a result. Not a bad tradeoff.
Did you know? Thanks to his 4a in this past year’s playoffs, Dawson pushed passed Gary Gait in the all-time Champion’s Cup assists charts, currently sitting fourth behind John Tavares (22), Jim Veltman (23) and leader Kevin Finneran (26).


13 Jordan MacIntosh

Age: 24
Position: Transtion
Team: Minnesota Swarm
With NLL players becoming more-and-more one dimensional the value of a Jordan MacIntosh is pretty priceless these days. Last year’s best two-way player – he’s got the trophy already collecting dust on his dresser to prove it – MacIntosh went from a really good rookie to one of last year’s most polished, adaptable and all-purpose players, his style and skill often difficult to define. Not the best in any one area, MacIntosh is well above average across the board and was a big reason why Minny got to the East Final without franchise frontman Andrew Suitor.
Did you know? MacIntosh is one of just two players from the stacked 2011 entry draft’s first round who avoided a goal scoring sophomore slump in 2013. He and Adam Jones both tacked on an extra 4g last year while Kevin Crowley (-2), Stephen Keogh (-13), Johnny Powless (-4), Travis Cornwell (-7) and defender Dan Coates (-3) all saw a dip in their second year goal production versus their rookie totals.


12 Jeff Shattler

Age: 29
Position: Forward
Team: Calgary Roughnecks
From a purely statistical standpoint, Shattler’s 2013 digit dump was fairly reminiscent of his MVP worthy run in 2011. Almost identical actually. You’ve heard it before, this do-everything, dual-end capable super athlete with a bite is one of the most versatile players in the league’s modern era. While his daily duties are very much front-door heavy these days, Shattler’s unique skill-set gives Calgary the most skilled utility man in the league.
Did you know? While some on this list had more high profile hockey careers, few rubbed shoulders with the type of high profile NHL talent Shattler did during a short stint as a London Knight. Hart and Stanley Cup winner Corey Perry, Dennis Wideman, Brandon Prust, Marc Methot, Kyle Quincey and fellow former Mimico laxer David Bolland played with the Knights that winter. Also on that London team for part of the season was former NLL first rounder Chad Thompson.


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11 Tyler Richards

Age: 27
Position: Goalie
Team: Vancouver Stealth
Over the past five years, only Matt Vinc has bettered Richards’ on-floor resume, even though the league-wide accolades have been below stingy for Vancouver’s world-class stopper. Constantly post-season percolating no matter who he’s going head-to-head with, Richards twice out-played Hall of Famer Bob Watson in a pair of Cup finals, even stealing the show in the one the Rock won. “He is a leader in the room and on the floor and we believe he will only continue to be more dominant as he gets older,” said Stealth GM Doug Locker, the franchise finding Richards with a fourth round (46th overall) sleeper of a pick in 2007.
Did you know? Already a top level stopper, Locker might be right when it comes to Richards getting even better in coming seasons. At 27 he’s already been to three NLL title games and was just 23 when he captured his first Champion’s Cup, the youngest ever starter to lead his club to pro indoor gold.


10 Colin Doyle

Age: 36
Position: Forward
Team: Toronto Rock
Coincidence that the Rock franchise fell to pieces after Doyle was traded and then immediately back to respectability upon his return? The Toronto captain’s point totals took a nice bump in 2013, although his leadership, inventiveness and ability to function and flourish in any O spot on the rug still make him one of the sport’s most special and sought after commodities.
Did you know? While often names like Tavares, Sanderson and Dawson are immediately mentioned when talking about the league’s all-time assist king, it might actually be Doyle who is the best setup man in NLL history. Need proof? No player has registered more 50+ regular season assist campaigns than Doyle (9), better than Tavares (6), Sanderson (8), Dawson (6), Gait (1), the other Gait (1), Williams (6), Prout (7), Grant (5), Veltman (1) or literally any other legend you think might top him. Quantity and quality.


9 Callum Crawford

Age: 29
Position: Forward
Team: Minnesota Swarm
Was there a better player than Crawford in the second half of the 2013 regular season? No, no there wasn’t. Put others’ reputations and past glories aside and simply concentrate on what players did last year and hands down not only was Crawford a legit MVP candidate but he was also most critical to Minnesota’s cross-over clinch. This will be his first year since 2009 not playing alongside Ryan Benesch, maybe the two most important players in Swarm franchise history. Will he find that same magic with high profile rookie Logan Schuss, presumably their top left-hander leading into the year? Maybe Shayne Jackson? The Swarm’s success will definitely hinge on the response to that burning pre-season question.
Did you know? Only five players finished Top 10 in goals, assists and points last year in the NLL, Crawford one of those select few. The others included Rhys Duch, John Grant, Shawn Evans and his former Swarm teammate Benesch. While the other four posted their totals having played in a full 16 game season, Crawford crashed the countdowns in just 14.


8 Garrett Billings

Age: 27
Position: Forward
Team: Toronto Rock
While the talk about Billings in recent seasons has been all about his setup skills, two years ago registering the single season assist record (82) and last year touching 70, most impressive might actually be his ability to effortlessly thread the needle from the outside, probably today’s most dangerous downtown assassin. He’s yet to fully take the torch from Colin Doyle, who may not lead the team in helpers but is still Toronto’s offensive kingpin. Last year Billings did do what no other Rock scorer has ever done, posting back-to-back 100pt campaigns for the first time in franchise history.
Did you know? While that Rock 100pt season double was a nice-to-have mentioned several times over the past year, it’s not nearly as impressive as what it meant to the league-wide record books. Not only was it the Rock’s first back-to-back 100pt scorer, it was only the second time that milestone was ever achieved anywhere in the league going back to Year 1 in 1987. We’ll give you a sec to scramble and Google the career stats of any already-in or future hall of famer to prove that audacious statement false. The only name you’ll come up with his current Rock teammate Josh Sanderson, who did it in 2009 and 2010 with Calgary. While you’re at it, make sure you look up this dozy of a digit too; no player in the history of the league has ever posted a higher back-to-back point total than Billings’ 214 over the past couple years. He may not be Colin Doyle yet, but after just four full seasons, not too shabby of a start.


7 Cody Jamieson

Age: 26
Position: Forward
Team: Rochester Knighthawks
While he’s had the luxury of a top notch support staff in all of his Cup (Champion’s, Mann, Minto, Bowhunter, NCAA, etc…) wins, Jamieson adds an element of unmatched skill, refined toughness and an infectious at-all-costs attitude that has taken what would have been really good contenders and made them that extra bit Cup conquering better. His point totals are great, some of the absolute best in fact, but Jamieson is slowly but surely showing that Tavares, Doyle or Veltman level intangibility that few in the sport have ever possessed. His brand of lacrosse is as honest and blue collar as it is highlight of the night worthy. In short, winner winner chicken dinner.
Did you know? Jamieson’s back-to-back Champion’s Cup run also saw him take back-to-back Cup MVP honors too, the first player since John Tavares in the early 90’s to capture that rare post-season double. 2013 also marked the first time since 2007 that the same player won both the NLL’s post-season best individual trophy and the Mann Cup MVP (Mike Kelly Memorial Award) when John Grant did it with Rochester and Peterborough. With the Six Nations Chiefs a seriously strong contender for a Mann repeat next year, it would also give Jamieson a chance to become the first Kelly Award back-to-backer since – well what do ya know – Tavares in the early 90’s. In fact, JT went back-to-back the exact same years he went back-to-back in the NLL’s Cup final, an amazing almost unmatchable feat. Only Tavares, John Davis and goaltending legend Lloyd “Moon” Wootton have been good and lucky enough to win the Kelly in consecutive seasons.


VIDEO: A THIRD TRIES FOR THREE IN A ROW

Jamieson will be leading the Knighthawks – the first back-to-back NLL champ since Toronto did it in 2002 and 2003 – in a quest for a third straight title. No team has ever three-peated like Rochester will attempt this year, but that doesn’t mean the opportunity for three in a row hasn’t been presented in previous seasons. Both the Rock and Philadelphia Wings (another back-to-back franchise) had the chance to win three straight, both teams making it to the Cup final in that third year, but both also dropping hard to swallow L’s too. In fact, the Rock went to five straight finals in the early 2000′s, losing that middle battle to crash their hunt for a true dynasty. Can Rochester complete what so few have come equally as close to but never achieved? Check out last year’s Cup highlights below.


6 Shawn Evans

Age: 27
Position: Forward
Team: Calgary Roughnecks
There’s no denying that after an outstanding Junior career and a one of a kind apprenticeship in Rochester as a teen, anyone that lay eyes on Evans knew he was destined for greatness. MVP cinching and flirting with single season point and assist record greatness? Few likely did, but Evans did just that a season ago, the most out of left field MVP run since Athan Iannucci went goal-gun crazy in 2008. The reigning MVP was a one-time Second Team All-Pro previous to last year’s best-of-the-best title, zero other accolades as an NLL vet before that. His apples ballooned in 2013 thanks in large part to co-leading a Calgary cast that led the league in scoring (222g) and features a bevy of the NLL’s top scorers (4 Roughnecks ranked within the NLL’s Top 10 goal scorers last year, including Evans). Peterborough’s pint-sized pest proved he’s leading man capable at the highest level of the sport last year. Next? Playing that exact same role, but this time hoisting the Cup on the last day of class.
Did you know? His 33pt increase from 2012 to last season was by far the biggest climb in the league. Others that saw nice point spikes (that didn’t miss significant time due to injury or otherwise) in 2013 included; Jordan McBride +29, Kevin Buchanan +25, Dane Dobbie +22, Ryan Ward +18, Rhys Duch +17, and Jarrett Davis +13.


5 Matt Vinc

Age: 31
Position: Goalie
Team: Rochester Knighthawks
He’s the absolute best between the pipes today. It’s really that simple and straightforward. Without him, Rochester is not sitting as repeat Cup winners and they are not heading into 2014 as the most legitimate dynasty in the making since the Toronto Rock of the early 2000’s. While Rochester sports a solid defensive stand, Vinc still sees more than his fair share of heat, easily leading the NLL in both shots against and saves – his 662 stops in 2013 a new single season record (Rob Blasdell held the old mark of 644 since 2002). For much of last season, the barely .500 Knighthawks were not the same cohesive Cup clinching unit we’d witnessed in the playoffs the previous two years. Their in-season record and numbers actually paint them to be a pretty average club. So how does Rochester turn it up in the playoffs? Well, Vinc. The K’Hawks’ savvy starter would give the sorriest sack of a lineup belief that they could rhyme of three straight (well, now 4-5, and not necessarily straight either thanks to the league’s new unique playoff format), the amount of post-season W’s it takes to be crowned NLL kings. Past his at times perfect mechanics, it’s what Vinc allows the rest of the team to do on every shift that makes him better than the rest. Vinc’s presence allows his teammates to go after the improbable, the risky, the stuff only back-to-back Cup winners will push themselves to achieve. Vinc makes them awesome.
Did you know? With maybe almost a decade’s worth of lacrosse potentially left for Vinc, he already ranks fifth in all-time post-season stops (501) behind only NLL Hall of Famers Pat O’Toole (802), Dallas Eliuk (774), Bob Watson (749) and Steve Dietrich (643). Already sixth on that esteemed list and not far from Vinc is Vancouver’s 27-year-old backstop Tyler Richards (439).


grant_colorado_palumbo_608

4 John Grant

Age: 39
Position: Forward
Team: Colorado Mammoth
Timeless. Ageless. Limitless. Whatever time stamp terminology you’ve used to describe John Tavares, feel free to us those same words on Grant. We know, he’s not Tavares, no one is, but at almost 40 Grant is still playing at a level few in this league can come close to (screaming emphasis on ‘still’). For those that think he took a step back last year, it was almost impossible not to. Where was he supposed to go after setting the sport’s standard for points in a single season, passing who else but Tavares two seasons ago? Word of warning for this upcoming season, Grant may be fitter and more focused than he’s been potentially ever. He is still skilled beyond belief, still dangerously lethal with the ball in his pocket, and still one of the greatest lacrosse players on the planet today.
Did you know? Outside of his injury shortened 2004 season in Rochester (played just 5 games before demoing his ACL), Grant has led his team in regular season point production in the other 12 seasons. No one in the same sweater was ahead of him, ever. Even in his ’04 partial season, Grant was still able to finish tied for fourth on Rochester’s scoring charts.


3 Rhys Duch

Age: 27
Position: Forward
Team: Vancouver Stealth
While he was outdueled by Cody Jamieson in both the Champion’s & Mann Cup last year (both stars hobbled by injury in the NLL final, but both also netting hat-tricks), his individual effort and continued clutch play make Duch one of today’s most dominating offensive leaders and relied on scorers. The Stealth sniper’s league leading 45 finishes last year were almost a quarter of the team’s total end-of-season offensive output, a percentage he also led the NLL with. His performance during last year’s playoffs (where he exceeded that quarter ownership mark when it came to Washington’s goal production) only added to his growing legend, first leading a third period charge (scored a hat-trick in about 5 minutes) to topple Edmonton, then netting the game winner in a single goal W over Calgary in the West Final, and of course going stride-for-stride with the eventual champs, all while nursing a charley horse that would have sidelined most of the league. “For Rhys to be able to play in this game was a monumental effort,” said Stealth coach Chris Hall during the Cup’s post-game presser. “On Monday, he had 10% flexion in his leg. He had a deep charley horse on his left quad. Right up until game time, we didn’t know how mobile he was going to be or if he was even going to be able to play.” Regular season, post-season or whatever, without Duch in their lineup last year, the Stealth were simply pretenders.
Did you know? He co-owns the record for most assists (8) and points (11) in a Champion’s Cup game, doing that with the Stealth when they dropped Toronto in the 2010 final.


2 Kyle Rubisch

Age: 25
Position: Defender
Team: Edmonton Rush
Not since Pat Coyle wore a CN Tower on his shirt has a defensive defensemen had the type of game altering impact that Rubisch has had in Edmonton the last two seasons. While much of Coyle’s career relied on toughness, intimidation and a Scott Stevens smash mouth style, Rubisch has garnered even greater results with a slightly less abrasive approach. Rubisch, who is very much an intense and fearless competitor, operates with an in-game IQ no defender today comes close to matching. His positional play is perfection and his ability to see game play develop several steps ahead of anyone is the primary reason he kicks serious ass in the forced turnover rundown. Ditto for loose balls, Rubisch last year’s league leader among non-face-off players too. No one does defense better than him. No one.
Did you know? Representing Canada at the 2011 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship (WILC), Rubisch became the youngest player to win gold at the international tournament, just 22 when the Canadians beat the Iroquois in the Czech Republic. When he won his first NLL DOY nod in 2012, he was just 23, easily making him the youngest player to win that too.


1 Curtis Dickson

Age: 25
Position: Forward
Team: Calgary Roughnecks
Some may duplicate his gravity defying antics, once in a while. Some may score the odd dramatic game winner, sending an arena’s worth of supporters home with strained vocals and damaged drums. Some may even flip the switch and score a ship load (ships are big) of highlight after highlight reel worthy goals, doing a roster’s worth of scoring in the blink of an eye. Rare, but it happens. Not so rare, however, if you’re Curtis Dickson, whose quality and quantity of goal scoring has been surpassed by absolutely no one. His helper numbers suck (just 20 assists in 2013). An unselfish disher Dickson is not. What he is though is the definition of a player that needs the ball in his stick 24/7 in order to function. A top off-ball forward too (actually it’s one of his many underrated skills), Dickson is at his best in pressure cooker situations, the odds stacked completely against him, seemingly nowhere to go outside of a clock timeout or a cry on the bench. In those situations, Dickson simply succeeds and leaves the sad sack sulking for the opposition to contend with. He had 5 game winning goals last year, most of those fourth quarter or even OT finishers. His 7g in the span of about 20 minutes in the playoffs was unscripted majesty that is easily one of the league’s greatest individual efforts, ever. Superman? He wishes he had the array of supersensory and unearthly skills to pull from that Dickson destroyed the NLL with last year.
Did you know? A scoring champ and MVP this past summer suiting up for the Maple Ridge Burrards, Dickson’s 58g was the highest WLA regular season total since 2000 when Chris Gill scored 61 for the same Burrards club. Unlike Dickson, however, Gill was not anointed with an MVP mention during his impressive scoring run. Who did? Dickson’s current coach in Calgary, Curt Malawsky.


VIDEO: NOW THIS IS SUPERMAN

Here are Dickson’s highlights from last year in Calgary. His goals, brilliant, but be mindful of the gritty game play, the tireless work ethic and the unmatched passion this ginger haired lacrosse superhero brings with him to every fight. While some are close, no one in this sport is better right now than Curtis Dickson. They just aren’t.

 

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