There’s nowhere to go but up for a team that has finished last in its division the past two seasons, losing 11 games each time. There are benefits to landing in the basement, though, and this year those benefits equate to Dan Dawson and Kevin Crowley, the first picks in the Boston Blazers’ dispersal draft and the entry draft, respectively. That’s a whole lot of talent to add to the right side of your offense. Throw in Brodie Merrill, for whom the Wings paid a boatload in a trade with Edmonton, and optimism is on the rise for fans of this once majestic franchise that has floundered over the last decade. After the jump, see how that optimism can expect to play out in the 2012 season.
2011: 5-11, missed playoffs
Top 3 returning scorers: Drew Westervelt (27-27-54), Brendan Mundorf (16-34-50), Max Seibald (10-14-24)
League leaders: None
Key Additions: F Dan Dawson, T Brodie Merrill, F Kevin Crowley, F Ned Crotty, F Mike Hominuk, D Matt Stefurak
Key Departures: F Athan Ianucci, F Ryan Boyle, F Alex Turner
Outlook: While the Wings weren’t close to having league leaders in any category, they have imported the leaders in three key stats: Dawson had the most assists last year while Merrill topped the charts in loose balls and forced turnovers. Dawson will make players around him, like the underrated Westervelt and Mundorf, better. Merrill will amp up the transition game. Both will provide leadership and a winning attitude for a team that has won only five games each of the past two years.
The Wings can expect to be better, but it may be a bit early to start planning parade routes down Broad Street. While their right side is poised to be amongst the best in the NLL, the left is still one of the weaker units in the league. Brendan Mundorf is solid, but when Ned Crotty looks like he’ll be depended on to be one of your core lefties despite having 4 career points in 8 career games, that is a paper-thin group.
Of course, when you’ve been one of the worst teams in the league for a while, it’s a pretty big step to be able to trot the newcomers and Drew Westervelt out on the right side. Westervelt often gets overlooked among the top O guys in the league, but he’s a big bodied shooter who’s shown an increasing ability to distribute in the indoor game over his three-plus seasons. His numbers should take off with Dawson and Crowley, both consummate team players, on the floor with him.
The Wings are stable in goal with Brandon Miller. Kurtis Wagar is a capable backup but they may be looking to 2011 draftee Steve Fryer as the goalie of the future. Whoever is tending the cage had better be ready to face some India rubber, because the defense is still a work in progress. The Wings gave up the most goals in the East Division, but it wasn’t Miller’s fault. He had a respectable .768 save percentage. He also faced the second-most shots per minute of any starting goalie in the league. Brodie Merrill will definitely help on the back end, but while he’s a loose-ball machine and forced more turnovers than anyone else in the NLL last year, shut down defense isn’t his forte. Philly has high hopes for 6′4”, 230-pound rookie Matt Stefurak from the University of Delaware, but how much can reasonably be expected from a guy still learning to use a short stick?
So while it may not be time to discuss the Wings as championship contenders yet, bringing defender Paul Dawson’s big brother Dan to the City of Brotherly Love is the start of a rebuild that the notoriously rabid Philadelphia fans can appreciate.
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