2019 NLL Draft Grades: North Division

Photo: Garrett James

Photo: Garrett James

We’re nearly a week removed from the 2019 NLL Draft, and now that the annual festivities are finished with, we can firmly switch our attention to the upcoming NLL season, which kicks off in late November. Over the coming months, teams will start to kick off their respective training camps and narrow down their rosters.

There will be some newly drafted talent featuring in those camps, with some top picks looking to help their teams towards a championship while others are trying to crack rosters.

I’m certainly not an expert on the draft. Luckily for me, I do know a few guys that are. Teddy Jenner and Pat Gregoire offered their opinions on how each organization fared during the draft and also touched on sleepers that could make a big impact in the future.

Without further adieu, let’s jump into it. We start it off with the North Division.

Buffalo

Grade: B-

The Bandits didn’t have high picks in any of the rounds this year, but they still managed to have a solid draft overall. 

With the 12th overall pick, there were some names still available that could’ve gone earlier. They were able to land Brent Noseworthy, a defender who spent the summer with Brooklin Lacrosse Club. He’s one of the most interesting names in this class, as, throughout his minor career, he was a goalie. He has less than 100 games of experience as a runner, however, he became the first player in Michigan program history to eclipse 100 career goals. 

He’ll need a little bit more time to get acclimated to life outside the crease in the box game, but once the 6-foot-4, 215 lb defender hits full stride, he’s going to be a dangerous threat in the transition game for Buffalo. 

The Bandits followed up that pick by nabbing Nathaniel Kozevnikov, a forward who has spent the majority of his Junior A career with the Langley Thunder. He did have a brief stint with New Westminster in 2018, but he returned to Langley for 2019. 

Kozevnikov had 21 goals and 33 points in seven games and will be able to slot in behind the likes of Dhane Smith, Chase Fraser and Thomas Hoggarth. 

With their remaining picks in the draft, the Bandits were able to land Ryder Garnsey (45), Taylor Kauffeldt (55), Tyler Halls (60) and Joel Watson (88).

Sleeper Pick: Taylor Kauffeldt/Ryder Garnsey

Buffalo had a pair of under-the-radar pickups that could yield big value for the Bandits down the line. Let’s start with Garnsey. 

The Notre Dame product has gained a big following over the last few months after having a breakout rookie campaign with Redwoods LC in the PLL. 

Firstly, they’d have to convince Garnsey to come and play the box game, but if they can do that, he’ll be able to help fill a gap left by Jordan Durston in the Bandits’ attack. He’s only 5-foot-9, but Garnsey has a good shot and likes to use speed to beat defenders to the front of the net. 

Kauffeldt worked his way up from the Junior B Newmarket Saints to the Barrie Lakeshores before eventually landing in Brampton this summer. He only played a single game with the Excels and had a call-up game for the Oakville Rock as well. Evaluators had to go off his previous two summers with Barrie, where he didn’t produce much offence but was a solid defensive contributor. 

Buffalo has a solid core of defensive players, but having depth on the back end is always important, especially if injuries arise. The 6-foot-2, 225 lb defender offers a lot to like and will likely fit well into the Bandits’ physical style of defence.

Halifax

Grade: C+

The Halifax Thunderbirds opened the 2019 NLL Draft off with a bang. They held two first-round picks and made additions to each end of the floor. 

With the fifth overall selection, most thought they’d go the defensive route. Instead, they took the best righty forward on the board at the time in Clarke Petterson. 

From 2016-2018, Petterson had three consecutive 90-point campaigns in Junior A with the Brampton Excelsiors. In the Excels’ run to the Minto Cup Finals in 2018, he had 101 points in 21 playoff games ahead of the national championship. 

He jumped up to MSL this past summer with Brampton and cemented himself as a top-10 talent, finishing the season with 47 points in 16 games. 

With their next pick, at 14th overall, Halifax addressed the need for a young, exciting player on the back end, Nabbing Trevor Smyth. 

He’s an Orangeville product that had solid stints with both the Junior B and A squads before going to the Oakville Titans and then the Rock this summer. He just kept getting better with every showing in Senior ball this year and his solid all-around game will be a welcomed addition alongside the likes of Graeme Hossack and Jake Withers. 

The Thunderbirds also landed Nonkon Thompson (38), Matt Dziama (68) and Brad Fannell (81).

Sleeper Pick(s): Nonkon Thompson

Thompson is another early declarant for the 2019 draft. He’s played a pair of games with the Six Nations Arrows but has spent the majority of his junior career to date with the Akwesasne Indians, serving as the team’s captain in 2019. 

Halifax owner and general manager Curt Styres has gotten to see Thompson up close and personal over the years, as he also served as the defender’s coach and manager with the Iroquois Nationals during the past two World Junior Lacrosse Championships.

At just 19 years old, there’s still time for him to learn while playing Junior A. Thompson will get the chance to contend for a roster spot in camp, but if he doesn’t make it, just give it a few years. He has all the ability to be a great contributor on the defensive end.

Rochester

Grade: B+

What’s the best way to build off an already solid expansion draft? Have an equally solid showing at the entry draft. 

Rochester had the chance to sit back and select who they considered the best player available with the second overall pick in the draft. They took little time in selecting Ryland Rees, who Stephen Stamp ranked as the top talent this class had to offer. The rearguard has future Defensive Player of the Year written all over him and he hasn’t scratched the surface of his true potential. 

The Knighthawks followed that up by taking Cory Highfield and Dustyn Pratt with their two second-rounders. Highfield just missed out on the first round, but his experience with the Oakville Rock will help him make the transition to the NLL full-time. He spent time up front as well as in transition, so the K-Hawks can plug and play him wherever they see fit. Pratt declared early for the draft, and at just 20 years old, he’s going to need some seasoning before stepping into a big-time role. One thing is for sure: you’ll never regret taking a player from the Orangeville Northmen.

They held two of the first four picks in the third, and with those, they got Thomas Whitty and Matt VanGalen. The former is another early declarant who has already played four full summers of Junior A with St. Catherines while the latter had an up and down summer but offers great potential after a solid 2018 summer campaign with Oakville. 

Rochester also landed Sean Darroch (48), Tyler Biles (49), Brad Voigt (62), Carter Badour (65) and Alec Simons (77) in the draft. 

Sleeper Pick: Matt VanGalen, RF, 3rd Round (37)

VanGalen is a player that, following a solid 2018 campaign with the Oakville Rock, was touted as a first-round talent. However, he wasn’t a consistent contributor this past summer in Oakville, which saw him head to Senior B and play for the Titans.

It’s likely just one off season for the righty, as he’s going to turn out to be an everyday contributor to an offence. He’s another individual that spent time with the Orangeville Junior program. Do not be surprised if he carves out a role for himself with the Knighthawks in the next few years.

Toronto

Grade: B+

We can say one thing about the Toronto Rock: they certainly didn’t follow the regular script when it came to this draft. 

The Rock received a first-rounder as compensation for losing Brodie Merrill -- a great stroke of luck with the talent available at that pick. They opted for Aaron Forster, who fell down draft boards after breaking his thumb in the first game of his summer season with Burnaby. The Ottawa, Ont., native showed glimpses of his abilities with the Capital Region Axemen in Senior B in 2018, posting 23 goals and 36 points in nine games. He could either factor in up front or in transition, but with the right side looking set for the Rock this year, the latter is more likely for the No. 15 pick. 

With their second-round pick, Toronto landed Zach Manns, a talented lefty who tore up the BCJALL with the Victoria Jr. Shamrocks this past summer. Manns is a Victoria native, which means that he’ll have to travel East to play for the Rock. However, they couldn’t have passed on him with this pick. Toronto needed a lefty to replace Kieran McArdle, and Manns was believed to be a top-15 talent by draft experts. 

Manns will turn 21 in a little over a month. He could get some chances with the Rock in 2020 but the more likely scenario is that he spends most of the year on the practice squad learning. 

One of the Rock’s more interesting picks came in the fourth round. They took goaltender Troy Holowchuk, a 19-year-old goaltender who declared early for the draft. He’s had great numbers this past summer with Six Nations, posting a 7.87 goals-against average and an .813 save percentage in 16 games. 

The odd part of the pick is that Nick Rose is just 31 and has established himself as the unquestioned starter in Toronto and the Rock just took Riley Hutchcraft -- who’s just 22 years old -- back in 2017. 

Toronto is likely playing the long game with Holowchuk, as he looks like another solid young addition for the future. 

In addition to those individuals, the Rock also selected Jamison Dilks (43), Ryan Conrad (73) and Jordan Caskenette (86).

Sleeper Pick(s): Ryan Conrad/Jamison Dilks

Conrad was a standout with the University of Virginia and plays for Atlas in the PLL. As is the case with most American players, it’s unclear whether Conrad will make the jump to the box game.

Dilks is another Six Nations grad who, if he’s anything like his older brother -- Saskatchewan defender Ryan -- will be a great grab by the Rock in the third round. 

Austin Owens