It has been known for years that the 2011 National Lacrosse League Entry Draft was going to be full of studs. Currently there are 30 first year rookies on NLL Rosters, which is impressive in and of itself. Competition for spots gets stiffer every year, as the NLL has lost a team a year for the past decade. Nonetheless, every player selected in the first two rounds of the 2011 NLL Entry Draft made a roster spot at the start of the season. I don’t believe that has ever happened. So what’s the deal? It is a common practice for teams to keep rookies for budgetary reasons, but with the effect many are having so far that is obviously not the only reason.
This year’s rookie class runs the gamut from the 18 year old Johnny Powless to the 25-year-olds: Jordan McBride, Jamie Lincoln, and soon to be Stephen Keogh (2/16/87). Probably more important than age is experience. The cream of this year’s crop has significant Minto Cup, Mann Cup, International and NCAA tournament experience. The success of Crowley, Jones and Keogh early in their rookie seasons makes sense in light of their talent, age and experience.
The traditional “rookie” can be thought of as a Canadian or Native player finishing his Junior career or an American field player completing his 4 years of college eligibility. Either way, you are looking at roughly a 21 or 22-year-old prospect, although there have always been exceptions. Gary and Paul Gait entered the MILL in 1991 after graduating from Syracuse at 23. John Grant was 26 when he first donned a Knighthawks’ Sweater. On the other side of the coin you find guys like Shawn Evans who turned pro at 18.
In recent years we have witnessed more NCAA teams tapping into the box pool for recruits. On top of that many of the Canadian players are not starting college until they are at the end of their Junior career. The end result is more and more 25-year-old NLL Rookies.
In watching the first month of games in the 2012 Season what strikes me is both the youth and ageless. In Colorado you have John Grant, Jr. (37) and his cast of rookies (Jones, Lincoln, Coates, McBride, etc) tearing up the West. Mike Accursi, who turns 37 later this month, has been a pleasant surprise early in Rochester as he is second on the Knighthawks in scoring followed by freshman Stephen Keogh. Although he hasn’t put up the same numbers I have been impressed with how comfortable the young Powless has appeared so far.
Thirty-Seven seems to be the magic number as Pat McCready continues to put out consistent performances on the D end. The ageless John Tavares (43) is leading the Bandits in points. Buffalo has only 2 true rookies in Jeremy Thompson and Jeff Cornwall although technically Jeremy Purves is still a rookie with only one game in the books in 2011.
I remember Marty O’Neill commenting to me only a few months before I was forced to retire that I would have to change my style of play in order to extend my career. In contemplating how guys like Tavares and Company continue to play at such a high level this deep into their careers, it is nothing short of perplexing.
Robb Gaffney is a high school buddy of mine who has enjoyed a life as an extreme skier, all while maintaining a day job as a psychiatrist. He has lost 6 friends in the last 3 years to skiing related accidents and is starting a discussion on sport safety. He asked me the following questions.
1) What issues do you think are the biggest obstacles to a long sustainable lacrosse career?
2) Are there certain traits common among those players who completed their careers in a healthy state?
3) Would you have changed anything in the way you played to maintain health?
I can’t say I would have changed the way I played. I believe that when you step on the floor you go hard and do whatever it takes to help your team win. I do realize that playing with a high level of aggression often elicits that same level from others which likely contributed to my retirement. As a player gets older they often get smarter. This sometimes involves staying out of certain situations that are more likely to cause an injury. I consider John Tavares one of the more intelligent players in our game. It’s not that he doesn’t lay his body on the line to score goals, but I would guess that he has adjusted his game slightly over the years in order to stay in the game. Whatever the case, it is great that the young players in the league have the opportunity to learn first hand from some of the all time greats of our sport.A nine-year NLL veteran and former GM and head coach of the Boston Blazers, Ryan also coached Team USA at the '07 WILC and will do so again in 2011 in Prague. To purchase Ryan's Stir It Up DVD click here.
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