We’ve been running some polls looking at the best in various aspects of the game, like offence, defence transition. Comeback players and breakout players have had their day. But for Boxing Day we’re looking at something a little simpler. One skill, although it manifests in various ways. Today’s poll: who is the best shooter in the National Lacrosse League? The record-holder for goals in a season seems like a good place to start. Oddly enough, outside of his record-setting year, Athan Iannucci hasn’t scored more than 30 goals in a season. But oh, what a year that was. 71 goals in 16 games. That’s four-and-a-half goals per game. That’s remarkable. But does it make him the best shooter in the game? That’s for you to decide, after the jump.
It would be hard to argue Nooch wasn’t the best shooter in the game that year but he’s had middling results since, largely thanks to tearing up his knee. His Mann Cup performance attests that he’s back on his game, though, and ready to bring his diverse shooting skills back to the NLL. Iannucci can rip it but he’s probably better known for his Beast Mode goals (props to my announcing colleague Jumbo Elliott for the term), making like an irresistible force as he powers through multiple opponents and still somehow manages to deposit the ball behind goalies, often with one hand.
You’d better not devote too much attention to the right side of the floor when you’re playing Washington, though, because Iannucci’s teammate Lewis Ratcliff is one of the purest outside shooters the game has seen. Ratcliff scored 24 goals his first season in the NLL. In the nine seasons since, he hasn’t scored fewer than 34 and he’s topped 40 four times, including one 50-goal year. How’s this for consistency? NLL: 159 career games, 380 goals. WLA:149 career games, 375 goals. And most of them with the sweetest, most fundamental overhand cannon you’ll see.
Of course, John Grant, Jr. has a pretty sweet overhand shot as well. And the most lethal sidearm shot going. And a wicked behind the back shot. Then there’s his one-hand, behind-the-back, through-a-maze-of-legs, bounce-top-cheese model. The thing about Junior is, you know he’s going to shoot but he’ll still beat you. There are times when he just decides he’s going to take over a game and, watching him, you get the sense he can score almost at will. Numbers back up his claim to the best shooter title. Grant’s worst full-season total in the NLL is 36 goals. He’s a four-time 50-goal scorer and has eclipsed the 40 mark eight times. His career total: 519 goals in 170 games. That’s right, he’s averaged over a hat trick a game for his entire career.
A couple of other West Division shooters are making their mark relatively early in their careers. Shawn Evans has evolved into more of a set-up guy, but he can hurt you in a ton of ways. When it comes to shooting, he’s the master of the spinning shot. Evans comes out of from behind the far side of the net, works his way to the top of the crease and spins back to his forehand. Somehow, while he’s pivoting, he can find the top corner with consistency. He’s added a backhand shovel shot from the same position to keep goalies honest, but that spinner is one of the most impressive weapons in anyone’s arsenal.
Ryan Benesch may not have a signature move, but with 79 goals over the past two seasons he’s bumped his career average to over two goals a game by being one of the most accurate shooters around.
Accuracy is the trademark of another lefty forward, but John Tavares has taken it to a whole other level in his legendary career. In 20 NLL seasons, Tavares has 20 20-goal campaigns. Bear in mind, if scoring 20 goals every year doesn’t sound that impressive, that in the first three seasons of his career teams only played eight games in a season. 738 goals over 260 games. Last year he was second in the league with 41 when almost no one else on Buffalo was scoring consistently. He can score in a lot of ways, but much like Ratcliff a majority of his goals come from a pure, perfect overhand that he places impeccably.
Mark Steenhuis can rip it from outside, too. He’s also got the moves to juke a goalie out of his Boddams and the athleticism to make the crease dive an art form. Paul Rabil’s approach is less artistic and more about brute force. He’s probably the hardest shooter on the planet and on a 6-by-6 net that works out just fine. A little refinement as his indoor game evolves could make him scary for more than just the oomph he puts on the ball.
Refinement was the key to success for another terrific American shooter. Casey Powell scored 21 times total his first two years in the NLL. He followed up with three seasons of 27-29 goals then a four year stretch scoring between 32 and 44 per season. At 36 and coming off a serious knee injury, Powell is in the twilight of his career but his sweet stroke should keep him contributing for a while yet.
Across the floor in Rochester is another great shooter at the opposite point in his career. Cody Jamieson scored 28 goals as a rookie and 36 last year. He’ll keep putting up numbers because he can hit from outside, he can go inside with controlled power and he can hit his spots on the run.
Garrett Billings has been amazingly consistent in his young career. He’s scored 33, 31 and 32 goals in his three seasons. He’s not one to create shots from a lot of situations, but if you give him space he’ll make you pay. Lost a bit in the attention deservedly paid to Billings’ amazing set-up game that allowed him to set the single-season record for assists last year is that he loves to shoot. The Rock righty has averaged over 200 shots a year in his NLL career and he connects on his fair share of them.
Finally, we have another veteran who is not a classic spot-up shooter, although Colin Doyle can bury the pure overhand with the best of them when he sees an opening. The Rock captain is better known among his peers, however, for being able to find a way to score when his team really needs a goal. He’s the master of finding a hole from any stick angle and and position from standing fully upright to lying on his belly. The first 10 or 12 times you see Doyle score with something like a backhand bounce shot as he’s being dragged to the ground with his back to the goalie, it looks kind of fluky. It also might seem lucky when he bounces a shot in off the inside of the post. Until you watch him practicing precisely that shot in warmup. The reality is that Doyle is the perfect marriage of skill, practice and a dogged refusal to give up on a play.
A dozen great shooters. A dozen excellent choices. But only one of them can be your selection for the best of the best.
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