Future looks bright, 2015 Major League Lacrosse draft preview.

Why wait until January to preview the draft? These kids have all played their last collegiate game before the draft. Sure, we’ll get to see a little more of Wesley Berg, Jesse King and Lyle Thompson this summer during the World Championships, but I think most of us are already sold on those players.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • This projection is based on my prediction of the final standings. As always, teams draft in reverse order of wins. With every team within one game of a playoff spot, I realize my prediction could be ridiculously wrong.
  • I’d be shocked if MLL wasn’t a 10-team league in 2015. Therefore, Expansion Teams A and B will be picking first and second, and an expansion draft will be preceding the collegiate draft.
  • Another implication of expansion: Each existing MLL team will need to submit a 10- or 12-man roster before the expansion draft. Depending on which players are kept, each team’s “needs” could vary tremendously.
  • For what it’s worth, I wrote this with Atlanta and the west coast in mind as locations for Expansion Team A and Expansion Team B, respectively.

1. Lyle Thompson – A – Rochester Rattlers (from Expansion Team A)

The Charlotte Hounds are the blueprint for expansion. In 2012 they had the first overall pick in the collegiate draft. There was a pretty decent player on the board then, too – Rob Pannell. The Hounds traded the pick for Matt Danowski, Stephen Berger and two draft picks.

The Rattlers would be crazy not to send a similar package to Expansion Team A. How about Jordan Wolf, a 2015 first-round pick and a supplemental draft pick? Consider it done. Lyle is reunited with Miles and Ty, and life just got a whole lot easier for the Rattlers’ ticket sales reps.

2. Wesley Berg – A – Expansion Team B

Berg scored five goals in the semifinals against Duke with a broken thumb. He is one of only four collegiate players to make Team Canada’s 24-man roster. This draft (and the league in general) is loaded with facilitators. Kevin Rice, Wells Stanwick and Joey Sankey should be available later; a finisher like Berg, however, is tough to find.

3. Nikko Pontrello – A – Charlotte Hounds

I like Danowski running out of the box; if the Hounds can bolster their attack, then they can run Mike Sawyer out of the box as well. Pontrello probably isn’t the best player available here, but he’s the best Greyhound available. That’s all that matters to Charlotte.

4. Connor Buczek – M – Ohio Machine

Here’s an example of what I mean by a shift in team needs. If MLL does expand to the west coast, then I’m guessing Kyle Harrison and/or Peter Baum will play there. The Machine could deal those two players for expansion draft picks and retain as much of its roster as possible. Then, they could snag the Cincinnati native and first-team All-American midfielder out of Cornell.

5. Chad Tutton – M – Florida Launch

Calling someone a left-handed Kevin Crowley is high praise, but if anybody is worthy of it, it’s Tutton. Florida should be proactive in its search for Garrett Thul’s (looming military commitments) replacement. Tutton would be a fantastic complement to Crowley as a wing dodger. He has a nasty face dodge and enough strength to consistently get to the cage with S dodges.

6. Goran Murray – D – Chesapeake Bayhawks

The Bayhawks will have two glaring needs by January: face-off specialist and longpole depth. Conveniently for coach Dave Cottle, the best player available at each position is a Terp. Earth might stop spinning before Cottle takes a face-off specialist in the first round, so I’d expect them to pick Murray.

7. Jesse King – M – Expansion Team A (from Rochester)

On paper, King scores like a left-handed Crowley. He had 26 goals and 22 assists in just 12 games this year. Watch him play, and you’ll notice his style is much different than Crowley’s.

Where Crowley and Tutton opt to knife through defenses with speed, King opts to back down defenders and make slides come to him. He does an exceptional job of keeping his head on a swivel to dissect doubling defenses. Like his former Ohio State teammate, Logan Schuss, he has a lethal outside shot. As a picker and ball-carrier, King reminds me more of Zack Greer than Crowley – either way, this kid is a special player.

8. Jack Near – SSDM – New York Lizards

No teams are going to have an easy time submitting 10- or 12-man rosters, but the Lizards might have the toughest decisions to make. I can’t see them letting Drew Adams walk, which means they can only protect nine field players. Pannell, Max Seibald, Ned Crotty, JoJo Marasco, Greg Gurenlian, Brian Karalunas, Joe Fletcher and Kyle Hartzell seem like locks, right? So who is the ninth? Luke Duprey? Tommy Palasek? David Earl? Matt Striebel?

Most likely, a few SSDMs (Steve DeNapoli, Shamel Bratton, the Untersteins) will be leaving New York. The Lizards would be lucky to add a high school attackman and – (do I dare say it?) – the next Matt Abbott.

9. Kevin Rice – A – Boston Cannons

Yeah, I know. I’m being optimistic that an 80-point scorer will be available all the way down here to serve as the heir to Ryan Boyle. But I’m also being optimistic that the Cannons will make the MLL Championship. So that evens out, right?

10. Erik Adamson – M – Denver Outlaws

The Outlaws love to run a left-handed midfielder with Jeremy Sieverts and Drew Snider. Ideally that midfielder is Zack Greer; when Greer isn’t available due to NLL commitments, Justin Pennington does a solid job. I’m sure GM Tony Seaman would love to add consistency to this position (and add another Pioneer to the roster). Watch here as he flat-out beats UNC’s Mark McNeill to his spot:

(Important note: McNeill was a two-sport athlete at UNC and a very good defensive midfielder. Chesapeake drafted him and never traded him for a future pick because of one awful performance, so take that for what it is. Cottle likes the kid. Beating McNeill like this is impressive.

11. Randy Staats – A/M – Expansion Team A

I don’t even know what happened in the hypothetical expansion draft, but I’m already in love with this hypothetical expansion team. Wolf, King and Staats?! If any of the twenty-two sports fans in Atlanta are reading this, they’re pumped!

(Note: I don’t understand why the draft order works this way. In 2012 Charlotte had the first pick in every round of the collegiate draft. Ohio had the first pick in every round of the supplemental draft, but is that truly fair? Why not alternate rounds in each draft?)

12. Wells Stanwick – A – Expansion Team B

Despite the uphill battle Expansion Team B faces in the collegiate draft, it’s still doing okay. Berg and Stanwick are a great duo to build around. If Team B can land some local talent (i.e. Harrison and Baum) through trades, then this could be a fun team to watch.

13. Gunnar Waldt – G – Charlotte Hounds

Few schools are better up the middle than Bryant. Waldt and Kevin Massa will keep them in every game this year. Up the middle is exactly where Charlotte needs to get better, and adding Waldt would be a great start.

If you can survive the shaky camerawork in this clip, then you’ll see a high school Waldt make a few ridiculous saves and manhandle an attackman in the process:

14. Charlie Raffa – FO – Chesapeake Bayhawks (from Ohio)

Like I said, Cottle would never draft a faceoff specialist in the first round. But Brendan Fowler went 14th overall in 2014, and I don’t think Raffa will slip much farther than that. The Bayhawks can deal a supplemental draft pick or a veteran to get back into the second round and fill an obvious need.

15. Michael Pellegrino – LSM – Florida Launch

I’d be shocked if Pellegrino falls this far. He is too skilled and too competitive. As a junior captain at Johns Hopkins, Pellegrino earned second-team All-American honors. The Launch would be ecstatic if it could reunite Pellegrino with Tucker Durkin.

16. Ryan Belka – M – New York Lizards (from Chesapeake)

(Note: Remember, this pick was traded to New York from Chesapeake for CJ Costabile.)

Belka is an outstanding passer from the midfield. Since arriving on campus, he has started 46 of 49 games and has tallied 66 goals and 46 assists. His game has shades of JoJo Marasco’s, which is the only reason I’m skeptical about this pick. The Lizards could be in need of a step-down shooting threat, especially if Striebel retires or is picked up by another team in the expansion draft.

17. Sean Young – D – Rochester Rattlers

His teammates at Syracuse call him the Mean Canadian. Those exist?

18. Will Haus – SSDM – New York Lizards

John Danowski calls him Duke’s best lacrosse player. Considering two players (Wolf and Duprey) were taken in the first round of the 2014 MLL Draft and two others (Myles Jones and Deemer Class) should be taken in the first round of the 2016 MLL Draft, that is very high praise.

I’d be surprised to see him fall down here; I just don’t know who will be in need of short-stick defense after the expansion draft. Charlotte seems like an ideal landing spot for him (it’s where his older brother, John, plays), but at the moment the Hounds are loaded with short-sticks (Kevin Drew, Josh Hawkins and Pat Laconi) 

19. Hakeem Lecky – M – Boston Cannons

Remember what Lecky did to Virginia this spring? Well, that was pretty much a replica of his performance in the 2009 Eastern Mass Championship against St. John’s Prep (Danvers) at Harvard Stadium. Please, bring him back to Boston!

20. Dan Taylor – A – Denver Outlaws

How many more years does John Grant Jr. have left? The way he’s playing right now, it looks like he can keep it up for as long as he wants to. Still, with a relatively complete roster, the Outlaws are able to look toward the future on attack. Taylor (47 goals, 29 assists) was a beast for Lehigh this year. He was an honorable mention All-American (if that’s even worth anything nowadays).

Look for Taylor and the Mountain Hawks to make some noise in 2015. Defensively, they graduated two starters. Offensively, they graduated zero starters and a mere 16 goals.

Others to watch:

Ryan Izzo - SSDM- UMass

Joey Sankey – A – North Carolina

Jordan Stevens – D – Cornell

Colin McLinden – M – Fairfield

Ryan Tucker – M – Virginia

Turner Evans – M – Ohio State

Matt Poillon – G – Lehigh

John Glesener – A – Army

Mike MacDonald – A – Princeton

Henry Schoonmaker – M – Syracuse

Jimmy Bitter – A – North Carolina

Conor Doyle – A – Notre Dame

Pat Frazier – D – Loyola

Dylan O’Shaughnessy – LSM – Lehigh

Ryan Kilpatrick – D – North Carolina

Jay Carlson – A – Maryland

Matt Donovan – A – Cornell

Mark DiFrangia – D – St. John’s

David Dickson – A – Bucknell

Ryan Walsh – A – Colgate