Every year there is always talk about the rookie class and who will be the next rookie of the year in Major League Lacrosse. One of the things that makes the MLL unique is the way rookie players don’t come in to the season until about a third of the way through depending how their NCAA team plays in the college tournament.
In reality the second year or sophomore season for young players is their first full season in the league. With that in mind I decided to put together a list of players to watch. Some of these players made an impact last season, some just got their feet wet at the MLL level and others didn’t see the field but I expect each to play a role for their team this year and have the potential to stand out.
The Chesapeake Bayhawks:
Matt Mackridge (Attack):In a crowded and very talented attack pool for Chesapeake last season, Mackridge was able to work his way in to the rotation nine times for the reigning MLL Champions. Recording six goals and one assist in those games this young man proved that he has what it takes to score at this level. For a team who has had salary cap issues he also has a low price tag.
Grant Kaleikau (Attack):Kaleikau is another young talented attackman; he was on the NCAA inactive list last season, so he didn’t see any action. At Delaware he was a standout and a Tewaaraton candidate who had the ability to feed and score as well as track down ground balls. Coach Cottle mentioned him by name a number of times on the MLL coach’s conference call last season. Expect the Bayhawks to take a look at him early in the season. Chesapeake will have a need at attack while they wait for some of their veterans to finish up in the indoor league.
The Denver Outlaws:
Chris Bocklet (Attack): We all saw what Chris Bocklett did during Championship weekend last year, but if you followed the Outlaws last season you know it wasn’t a freak occurrence. In seven games for Denver, Bocklet scored 17 times and handed out three assists for 20 points. That is not counting the six goals he netted in the post season to help the Outlaws reach the Championship game. Bocklet had the third best shooting percentage in the MLL during 2012. He should be in for a breakout year in 2013.
Stephen Robarge (Face-Off):Robarge only played in two games for the Outlaws last season and dealt with injuries throughout. When healthy, he went 26-56 on the X. He was also named Cascade Rookie of the Week for week three of the 2012 season. He has the ability, provided he stays healthy, to be a factor.
The Boston Cannons:
Collin Briggs (Midfield) Briggs saw action in eight games for the Denver Outlaws last season. With a stat line of two goals, four assists and six points, Briggs was never really able to get his footing in the rotation for Denver. Boston saw something in him and decided to bring him on board. Boston has been looking for another option at midfield and this may be the perfect spot for this middie to shine.
Chris Boland (Attack)Boland was used almost exclusively on the man up unit last season. He played in six games, recording six goals and two assists for eight points. Although his minutes were limited, Boland showed that he could be effective at this level. Boston was rotating at the third attack spot last season with Jake Bebe, Ari Sussman, Boland and others. He will need to shine early to earn that playing time but if he does he could be one to watch.
New York Lizards:
Matt Gibson (Attack):Matt Gibson is the reigning Cascade Rookie of the Year. Gibson started off the year on fire and cooled down when teams started accounting for him. In 12 games for the Lizards he had 18 goals and 15 assists for 33 points. Impressive numbers for a veteran MLL player, never mind a rookie. The question with Gibson is going to be; does he hit that “Sophomore Slump” that we always talk about? Defenses know what to expect from Gibson heading in to this season. On top of that the Lizards as a unit now have more weapons. As a result his touches may go down but will his production?
WATCH: Matt Gibson Highlights
Mark Matthews (Attack):In nine games with the Denver Outlaws last season, Matthews was dynamic at times and invisible at others. However, 19 goals and nine assists for 28 points are not stats to scoff at. We will need to see if Matthews can put it together for a full season and how he fits in with New York.
WATCH: Mark Matthews Highlights
Tommy Palasek (attack): Palasekquietly had a very productive year for a rookie. He played in 11 games, recording 21 goals and five assists for 26 points, showing his versatility and ability to be an all-around threat. Don’t be surprised if Palasek is the second year player who stands out for the Lizards at the end of the year.
The Rochester Rattlers:
Rob Rotanz (Midfield)The Rattlers traded for Rotanz mid-season after he struggled to find his groove with the Ohio Machine. In six games he scored nine goals and had two assists, not overwhelming numbers for a high draft pick. Despite the disappointing numbers, late in the season, Rotanz really seemed to start to gel with his teammates. Along with Jordan MacIntosh and Brad Ross the trio made a dangerous midfield unit. If Rochester is going to be successful this season, Rotanz is going to have to be a part of it. This player has the ability to dodge and shoot; he just needs to fully adjust to the speed of the MLL.
Will Koshansky (Defense)Koshansky was one of the standout rookie defenseman of 2012. He quickly stepped in and supplanted Tom Guadagnolo as a mainstay in Rochester’s defense. He quickly adapted to the MLL game, earned the trust of goaltender John Galloway and showed that he can play man defense against some of the best in the world. In 13 games, Koshansky had 15 ground balls and netted one goal and one assist. Look for Koshansky to take the next step to being a shutdown defender this year.
Mike Manley (Defense)Manley is a player many thought had an outside shot at rookie of the year or even defensive player of the year. A big body defender who showed last year that he can take on and shut down the opposition’s number one weapon. In 11 games for the team he scooped 35 ground balls and was a shutdown option on his side of the field.
The Charlotte Hounds:
Eric Lusby (Attack)Lusby was another player who dealt with injury issues after finishing up his NCAA commitments. He only played in two games for the Hounds, but the games that he played in he proved to be effective. Lusby registered four goals in those two games for a two goal a game average that showed promise. Charlotte traded away Jeremy Boltus and Billy Bitter in the off season which leaves a wide open opportunity for Lusby to shine right away.
Mark Manos (Goalie)Manos played in just three games for the Hounds in 2012 and did not record a decision. Posting a .529 save percentage when he was in the cage, allowing 16 goals while making 18 saves. Charlotte had issues all season long in goal last year and I expect Manos to get a long hard look in camp. Adam Ghittelman played very well down the stretch for the Hounds, but as we have seen before in the MLL, sometimes you’re only as good as your last start.
The Ohio Machine:
Steele Stanwick (Attack) Stanwick played in nine games for the Machine last season recording 11 goals, 17 assists and 28 points during that stretch. The Virginia product seemed to get better with each game he played. For all intents and purposes, Ohio is going to have a better supporting cast around him this year, so his production should only go up. Expect to see some serious finesse when Stanwick along if the 2013 number one draft pick Peter Baum gets on the field with him. Stanwick may not be just a sophomore to watch, he may end up being a MVP candidate.
WATCH: Steele Stanwick Highlights
Joe Cummings (Midfield)After not playing for the Chesapeake Bayhawks in 2012, Cummings was acquired by the Machine and immediately made an impact. In just four games for Ohio, Cummings scored nine goals and recorded two assists for 11 points. It wasn’t a coincidence that the Machine looked and played better after they acquired Cummings. He filled a role for them at midfield. Feeding one of the most talented attacks in MLL this season, he should continue to have the numbers.
The Hamilton Nationals:
Cameron and Roman Lao Gosney (Midfield)Hamilton is desperately in need of American talent that will not be tied up in the indoor playoffs for the first three weeks of the season. Two years in a row they have started in a 0-3 hole due to most of their talent playing indoor lacrosse as well. The Lao Gosney brothers saw limited minutes last season with Cameron only actually playing in one game. However these two can be dynamic dodgers and finishers in open space. Both players should get ample opportunity to show what they can do early in the season. Expect them to live up to the billing.
Matt Lovejoy (Defense)Lovejoy is a big defender who isn’t afraid to get physical when called upon. Hamilton’s defense struggled last season, but Lovejoy who played in 11 games for the team and gobbled 16 groundballs wasn’t the sole reason. He will be another American player that the Nationals are going to lean on early in the season. He will get a shot while Hamilton waits for players like Brodie Merril to finish their indoor commitments. The key for Lovejoy is to be more disciplined.
Roster spots in Major League Lacrosse are coveted with only eight teams in the league. The learning curve for making the transition to the pro level is steep and it begins right now for these players. The second year is when we find out if a player is going to stand out or if he will be average. Each one of these players has the potential to take that next step. We will be waiting in anticipation to see which ones actually do.
Tim Thomas is the founder and editor in chief of LaxDirt.com, where he covers all things related to professional lacrosse. He is the host of Pro Lacrosse Face Off, a debate show featuring members of the Lacrosse media and can also be heard on MLL Radio where he hosts the weekend MLL Pre and Post game radio shows.