September 13, 2013

Swarm Poised for Big Night at NLL Draft

by Neil Stevens |

Minnesota holds the potential for a big night with several top picks for the upcoming NLL draft.
©Alex Caroll

The NLL entry draft, to be held Monday night, is going to be an historic event for the Minnesota Swarm.

The first, second, fifth and seventh selections belong to the Swarm thanks to wheeling and dealing by owner John Arlotta and associate GM and head coach Joe Sullivan. Player interviews have been completed, the rookies' adaptability to the demanding Swarm work ethic have been assessed, and the time has now arrived to inject more fresh legs to one of the most dynamic rosters in the pro indoor league.

''It's going to be something else,'' Sullivan says as he looks forward to draft night.

Minnesota had four first-round picks last year, too, and got big defenseman Brock Sorensen (Ohio State) second, crease crasher Kiel Matisz (Robert Morris) third, nifty playmaker Shayne Jackson (Limestone) fourth and versatile defender Alex Crepinsek (R.I.T.) tenth, and they all made the team. Having the No. 1 slot this year _ for the first time in franchise history _ sets up an even more interesting scenario for Arlotta's crew.

''We were so excited last year with what we got and to go in this year with four again including No. 1, well, it's going to be a great thing for our organization,'' says Sullivan. ''This is what we planned for when we were moving some highly-skilled players. Some people were scratching their heads about what we were doing. Now they'll understand what we were doing.''

Buffalo finished last overall last season and would be first to the 2013 draft mic had the Bandits not traded their first-round pick to the Swarm in February 2012 for the rights to goaltender Anthony Cosmo, who had declined to play for Minnesota after Arlotta claimed him in the 2011 dispersal draft of players from a failed Boston franchise.

The Swarm got the No. 2 slot via their regular-season record last season, they own the No. 5 position for sending forward Zach Greer to Edmonton in 2011, and No. 7 belongs to them as well via the Toronto Rock for the rights to Josh Sanderson. Like Cosmo, Sanderson never played a game for Minnesota after being claimed in the Boston dispersal draft.

Minnesota's stockpiling of first-round picks is impressive to say the least.

So, who will the Swarm select this year?

Well, go back to July 15, when they traded Ryan Benesch, the franchise's all-time leading goal scorer in four years on the team, and Andrew Watt, a solid transition player with five-year tenure in Minnesota, to Buffalo for the Bandits' 2015 and 2016 first-rounders. That blockbuster opened up two lineup leftie spots that will be filled with the No. 1 and the No. 2 picks Monday night.

''I don't think we've left any rocks unturned,'' Sullivan says of the team's pre-draft preparations.

Enter forward Logan Schuss (Ohio State) and back-end speedster Jason Noble (Cornell). It really doesn't matter whose name is called first. Minnesota can take both. Schuss could move into Benesch's spot at the top of the left side, and Noble could assume Watt's role.

''He's got size and speed and he can finish,'' Sullivan says of Schuss, who learned the indoor game growing up in British Columbia. ''He's got tenacity. He's got the discipline of an NCAA school program. He's a great athlete and a great person.''

He's a team-first guy, too, says Sullivan.

''He's a physical player who will have an immediate impact.''

Noble came out of the renowned Orangeville, Ontario, junior program.

''Jason has a great first step,'' says Sullivan. ''He's not the biggest player but neither was Alex Crepinsek and he turned into one of our steadiest players. Jason is great defensively one-on-one and plays well within a system. He's also good in transition. He's going to be a good asset.''

Colorado has the No. 3 pick. Rightie forward Robert Church, from British Columbia via Drexel, is highly regarded but the Mammoth will undoubtedly be tempted to take Ontario-trained Cam Flint, a rightie specializing in the transition position, because of his University of Denver pedigree.

Edmonton is in the No. 4 slot via Philadelphia from the August 2011 trade of Brodie Merrill to the Wings. The Rush also have the Wings' 2014 first-rounder from the same trade. GM-coach Derek Keenan might look for a leftie forward to compensate for the expected absence for the first portion of the new season of veteran Corey Small, who blew out an ACL last month playing summer ball for the Victoria Shamrocks. Trouble is, the only leftie forward of first-round material is Schuss and he'll be gone by the time Keenan gets his turn.

Minnesota steps back up at No. 5. The Swarm already have three NLL-capable goalies but they might just add another. The best available netminder is Dillon Ward (Bellarmine) who like Noble thrived in the Orangeville setting.

''There are good goalies out there who are available and we have a pool of goaltenders we're trying to build on,'' says Sullivan. ''But we'll look at the best player available at the time we pick.''

Calgary is up at No. 6, Vancouver at No. 8 and Toronto at No. 9 to end the first round.

Buffalo, Philadelphia and Rochester have no first-round picks. The Bandits open the second round at 10th overall, the Wings won't be heard from until the 19th pick early in the third round, and the Knighthawks don't get up until the end of the third round at 27.

About 55 players will be selected.

''Where the last couple of drafts have been unbelievable, this one is probably rated as a good draft,'' says Keenan. ''It's not as deep but there are some good two-way players and seven some top goalies.''

The NLL is reducing rosters to 21 from 23 players, which will make it difficult for rookies taken past the first round to find lineup spots this winter.

''It's going to allow us to get a little tougher in our training camp to establish who is going to play,'' Sullivan says. ''Coaches will have to determine sooner who's committed to the team.''

Practise rosters will be expanded from the previous max of three.

'' Once it all gets hammered out I think you'll find it's a better setup,'' Sullivan says.

Regardless, with eight first-round entry draft picks in two years, Minnesota is setting itself up for long-range success.

''We don't have a lot of holes,'' says Sullivan. ''We have a young team that just found it stride towards the end of last season. If we can start the season with that tenacity, we're going to be in great shape.''

The entry draft will begin at 7 p.m. ET in the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre in Oakville just west of Toronto and is to be live on the league's website. Arlotta and Sullivan will be front and center.<

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