IL Indoor Roundtable: How good are the Rush? How much do the Swarm miss Benesch? Best rookies so far?
Going into the season, IL Indoor’s writers picked the Edmonton Rush as the third-ranked team in the National Lacrosse League, considering them legitimate contenders to hoist the Champions Cup. One concern was whether they’d be able to break their habit of slow starts to the season. Well, at 2-0 they’re certainly in a good place as they head into tonight’s Battle of Alberta. So how good are they? That’s one of the topics that this week’s Roundtable looks at. Teddy Jenner, Stephen Stamp, Ty Pilson and Marty O’Neill bat around whether the Rush can put it all together this year. Other topics on the table: how much are the Minnesota Swarm missing Ryan Benesch and can they turn their offence around in time to be contenders this year?; and who are the early (really early) contenders for the NLL’s Rookie of the Year? Make the jump to see the conversation and head over to the forums to have your say.
JENNER: Interesting weekend so far but what could be most impressive is the Edmonton Rush starting the season 2-0, the first time in franchise history. Is this finally the year Bruce Urban and Derek Keenan get it right?
PILSON: The Rush have built an incredibly athletic, big, strong and skilled defence. In net they have a stud in Aaron Bold. The last few years have been all about building an offence to go with said defence and Bold. Despite being without Corey Small this season, the Rush showed Saturday night they have the firepower, led by Mark Matthews and Zack Greer. However, it’s just two games. Not ready to anoint them champions-in-waiting in a league with parity like this one. That said, the Rush have no glaring weaknesses, except for maybe an offence that, despite Saturday’s blowout, is still meshing. After all, Robert Church is a rookie and Curtis Knight is in just his second NLL season. At the end of the day, though, this is a scary good team. Can’t wait to watch Edmonton host Calgary this Friday.
STAMP: I think a big factor is the pedigree of some of the young players. Robert Church played for Curt Malawsky in Coquitlam and Knight played for Keenan in Whitby, where he won a Minto Cup MVP award and two Minto titles. And of course Matthews played in both those systems and won Mintos with each. Players in general are coming into the league more ready than ever to compete right away. Players from junior programs like those are yet another step ahead on the preparation curve. I’m not saying they are going to win the championship because there are just too many good teams to really have any idea what’ll happen in April and May, but I am ready to say they are legitimate contenders for the title, even more so than they have been the last couple of years. And amen to being excited about the Calgary/Edmonton tilt coming up.
ONEILL: I mentioned the improvement to Edmonton’s offense in my preseason blurb and I’ll mention it again. Lowen and Church play big and go into the middle which weren’t strength’s for Small and Ward. This offense is huge! They have no weakness, everyone can do damage and we’ve seen it from different guys for 2 games now. Greer was electric and Mathews blew balls past the Mammoth goalies with certainty. Throw in Jarrett Davis, Knight and Cory Conway and these guys have a balanced attack. Big things still to come from Church who I think was the steal of the draft. Bold has been very good and the defense is the leagues best so at this point there is little doubt in that dressing room about what this group is capable of.
JENNER: Finally this team is getting draft picks to pay off and it has to put a smile on Bruce Urban’s face. Here’s a guy that continue to open his wallet to being in names like Georges St-Pierre to lure fans but now, a winning team in a city starved for one could see a rise in attendance. The Swarm on the other hand are 0-2 to start the year but it’s not for lack of quality defense. In two games, Tyler Carlson and the Minnesota D have given up just 16 goals but their offense has yet to find their stride. A franchise low 5 goals for this past Saturday has to be a concern for Joe Sullivan. Was Ryan Benesch that integral?
O’NEILL: Gotta take the lead here, YES! This Swarm offense has gone through him the last 4 years and he is the guy who constantly put himself in harms way and consistently put the ball in the net and made points happen for others. Last year he even led the team in picks set from what I saw so this offense needs to do a heck of a lot more collectively to make up for the loss of their #1 goal scorer and point generator. They did get to the net Saturday and they have size on offense so the numbers are deceiving thus far and will change but for now they are missing their former QB and it won’t just be Logan Schuss making up that shortfall.
STAMP: Benesch was critical for that offence. Just look at how well he’s already fitting into things in Buffalo, tied for their goal scoring lead with 6 and having a big impact on helping Dhane Smith get off to a terrific start. The frustrating thing for Sullivan must be that the Swarm have now dug themselves a hole by getting off to a slow start, and that is exactly what they were trying to avoid this year when they only brought 26 players to camp. They wanted to spend less time and energy selecting the team and more on pulling the players they had together so they were ready to hit the ground running. In a hyper-competitive East Division this year, it’s going to be very difficult to overcome an early deficit. Minnesota doesn’t have much time to turn things around. That’s why, even though it’s still early in the year, it calls to mind what Yogi Berra once said: “It gets late early out there.” It could get late really early for a team that falls too far behind in the race.
PILSON: Benesch spent years developing his game, as is the case with many of the NLL’s top stars. It didn’t happen overnight. Losing a player of his calibre is always going to result in short-term pain. The fact he was a floor general and Logan Schuss, his replacement, is more of a shooter doesn’t help. The fact Schuss has struggled a bit in his first few NLL games only compounds the problem. The long and the short, to me, is that Callum Crawford will need to take an even bigger role on the offence. He’s been amazing the last few seasons but needs to elevate and diversify his game even further. The club has plenty of shooters but Crawford needs to be the guy the ball goes through.
JENNER: Glad we’re all on the same page about this. The Swarm are off to a slow start offensively and in a five team east, where only three teams make the post season they’re going to need to right the ship quickly. You all mentioned your anticipation of the Rush/Roughnecks game this weekend but the home and home between the Wings and Swarm could be a more pivotal one. Finally, with mentions of Schuss and Church, Tyler Digby and Riley Loewen- who is the early leader for ROTY?
ONEILL: Really early here. Schuss and Cameron Flint and Scott Jones are all off to a slow start so they can only get better and fast. Loewen has fit right in on the Rush left side in the absence of Corey Small and made that gap go away for now. The ebbs and flows are bound to come but right now I love Digby’s game for the things he can do that don’t absolutely get measured by a score sheet. Tyler is so big he can set seals or picks whenever he wants and shoot over and around guys easily. Digby has good footwork and is the kind of talent that can really help an offense be well rounded instead of predictable. I can see why the Stealth went in this direction. As for Church he is the guy in 5 years from now that we will all being saying was the best from this draft. Robert has the “it” factor going.
PILSON: Gotta agree with Marty on both fronts: too early to even guess at this point, and I expect big things from Church in this league. I do think five years down the road Schuss will have developed into a great player and I also think we’ll be talking about what a great NLLer Cody Bremner has become.
STAMP: Agreed that it’s early, but if we’re suggesting who has already given an indication they could be a candidate, what about Dillon Ward? He had a tough outing against Edmonton, but he still has a 10.38 goals against average and .796 save percentage as a rookie goalie. He’s been impressive and has to be part of the conversation. As for who to keep an eye on as the season develops, don’t forget about Jason Noble. He’s only played one game so far because of his suspension, but he already looks like a veteran when he’s on the floor. It’s difficult for defenders to generate much traction in ROY voting because it’s so hard to gauge their impact without a lot of defensive stats to compare to the scoring stats, but I think he’s good enough that he’ll turn some heads and be a player in the race before it’s done.
JENNER: Oh so we can predict scoring leaders but not ROTY?! Lol… This could be one of the best races for top rook we’ve seen in quite some time. But as you’ve all commented, more often year after year, the crop of rookies continues to be more NLL ready from game one and much of that is due to their experience in the NCAA combined with a year or two of SrA ball due to playing in college. All leading up to a great future of the game.
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