By Kyle Devitte | 1/7/14 6:21 PM
The Boston Cannons are looking to rebound from a disappointing 2013 campaign that saw them go 5-9 and miss out on the MLL playoffs. The 2011 champions will begin the 2014 season under head coach John Tucker. Tucker was appointed mid-season after former head coach Steve Duffy was fired following a defeat to Rochester in week six of the 2013 season.
Tucker oversaw a four game win streak that gave the Cannons hope in the idle of the season, but a heart-breaking loss to Chesapeake in week 11 dominoed into four losses to close out the season. However, the off-season was eventful as the Cannons added all-pro-legend-defenseman Brodie Merrill in a trade with the franchise formerly known as the Hamilton Nationals – the Florida Launch. Merrill brings stability to an injury wracked backline that will be one of the primary foci of this upcoming draft.
Boston posted a final record of five wins and nine losses, the franchise’s lowest win total since 2007.
Cannons coach John Tucker makes no excuses for last season’s finish: “Our season was terrible. I think we need to improve in a lot of areas and no one’s job is safe. I look at this draft as a draft that can build longtime success. A lot of people don’t value this piece of the game, I think it’s exciting for a week, but the reality is that you get these kids 3-4 weeks into the season and sometimes they don’t have an impact right away. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t set yourself up for long term success if you get the right kids.”
It may sound like lip service, but Tucker is responsible for assembling at least part of the nucleus of the current-era Bayhawks team. Tucker was the man in charge when the Bayhawks drafted Michael Kimmel, Jeff Reynolds, Matt Abbott and Mike Evans. Three of those four players have been all-stars and they are integral pieces of a nigh-dominant Chesapeake team. That eye for talent will no doubt come in handy as this is a draft that has two to three impact players at every position on the field.
Cannons assistant coach Jim Murphy doesn’t necessarily see that many players that are on the level of last year’s rookie of the year Rob Pannell, though – “If you go by position there are quality guys, but I don’t know if there is a difference maker like Pannell. There are guys that will be very successful, but I’m not sure you would say there is that one guy that would come in and tear it up.” Princeton midfielder Tom Schreiber is projected to be the first pick by Ohio – and he has been lauded by a number of coaches and GM’s leading into this draft – but the notion of a “can’t miss” prospect is tenuous to coach Murphy “Is there a guy that will walk out and you can go “he’s the next guy”? I don’t know. I’m not sure. In the big picture maybe it’s due.”
So what does Boston need? There is one statistic that stands out amongst all others: Boston gave up more goals (202; 15 two-pointers) than any other defense in the league. The next closest team was the much-maligned Ohio Machine and they gave up 181 goals and six 2-pointers. Almost 20 less goals for a team with three less wins. While the majority of fingers will be pointed at the longpoles, teams actually chose to victimize Boston’s shortsticks more often than not by initiating up top and forcing either an ill-timed slide to open up a backdoor cut, or ripping a shot several steps inside the two-point line.
Teams that could penetrate and shoot put up numbers on Boston, but during the mid-season win streak the Cannons managed to control the ball on the offensive end more, took less chances and grinded teams out. Wily veterans Ryan Boyle and Matt Poskay won’t be around forever, but they will be around in 2014 and finding players that can learn and then fill in for them when they’re gone (the Cannons already have a Poskay-in-training with Jack Rice on the roster) will be just as paramount as defensive cavalry. The Cannons have the last pick the in first round (8 overall), two picks in the third round (17 and 19) and two picks in the fifth round (33 and 37). They also have picks in the sixth (42) and seventh (51) round to close out the draft. The wish list is simple: A tough physical defenseman (or two), an understudy for Ryan Boyle and defensive midfield help. Maybe a change-of-pace goalie. You know; if there’s one out there.
So who are some likely targets for the Cannons to fire at? [Yeah, sorry. That had to happen.]
Keep in mind that given Boston’s distribution of picks, certain players aren’t projected to be available to them. Tom Schreiber, Jordan Wolf, Joe Fletcher, Michael Ehrhardt – these are all guys that are neat the top of many coaches and GM’s boards. Boston only has one first round pick and two third round picks – a ton of highly rated players are coming off the board in that second round.
Kieran McCardle, St. Johns (36 goals, 49 assists): An excellent lefty distributor McCardle would be the perfect candidate to understudy Boyle. He may not have the accolades or pedigree that some of the other players have in the draft, but he played against the opposition’s #1 pole every game last year and still produced 85 points of offense. Boston already has a shifty lefty in Will Manny, but McCardle is a pure passer that can operate behind the net, learn from one of the best in the world and become the heir apparent.
Josh Dionne, Duke (45g, 5a): NH in the house! Dionne may have gone to Avon Old Farms but as far as this Granite stater is concerned he’s a shire boy through and through. The Merrimack, NH native isn’t a prototypical MLL attackman at 5’ 7’’ 185 lbs, but neither was Max Quinzani who was similarly slight in stature. Dionne doesn’t fill the Boyle mold, but as slashing goal scorer that can drive to the cage is still valuable and he may slip past the cadre of Charlotte Hounds picks in the second round to be a viable option in the third round.
Tom DeNapoli, Towson (41g, 19a): A tough shooter that was moved to attack last year to fill a need, DeNapoli has fewer carats in his diamond than McCardle, but he’s a better shooter and more physical. He’s an excellent target in the third round where Boston has two picks and most of the best defenseman will likely be gone. Then again, he might not be that great of a fit unless he can adapt to playing an inside outside game – think more Buchanan than Boyle – in the MLL.
Scott McWilliams, UVA (48gb, 36 Caused Turnovers, 5.5 Penalties In Minutes): Coaches and GM’s have been very split on McWilliams. Comments vary from “he’s nasty” to “do you really like him as an MLL defenseman?” but to be blunt, I fall in the latter camp. He is, indeed, a nasty gentleman. He may not be as despicable on the field as the next entry on this list, but McWilliams is anything but soft or slow or any of the other negative labels that have been placed on him. He would be the answer to Boston’s need for a true enforcer in the middle. A guy that can cover his man and slide to bundle, McWilliams is tailor made for Boston’s needs and if he is still there at #8 he is their man.
Luke Duprey, Duke (69gb, 37 CT, 16 PIM): Did I say despicable? I meant destructive. Duprey has been an animal in a Blue Devil mask for his entire career in Durham; mugging helpless attackmen with the callousness of a 1930’s Chicago gangster with regularity. What’s this? He’s ALSO a shire boy? At 6’ 6’’ 210 lbs. he’s the larger of the two NH Dukies and his draft stock is through the roof. At the end of last season he was largely slept on as a prospect – Fletcher, Ehrhardt and McWilliams were all mentioned before him – but going into the draft he’s one of the most talked about players in the entire draft. He may very well be gone before Boston picks at the eight spot, but if he’s still there expect the Cannons to sprint to the commish to claim him before the ceremonial time between picks has even started.
Henry Lobb (22gb, 4.5 PIM) and Chris Hipps, Duke (32gb, 5 PIM): Two more Dukies, sadly neither from the great state of New Hampshire, are both viable options for the Cannons later on in the draft. Lobb is the more celebrated of the two, garnering second team pre-season All-American honors going into the 2014 season. Hipps was an honorable mention, but both players have acquitted themselves nicely as part of the Duke 2013 NCAA championship squad. Both players are hulking beasts at 6’ 4’’, but Lobb seems the draw the opposition’s top guy more than Hipps does and he will pressure out when needed.
Ryan Creighton, UNC (11g, 3a, 22gb) and Pat Laconi, Loyola (4g, 6a, 24gb): The Cannons need help at the defensive midfield position after losing Jon Hayes in the supplemental draft to Chesapeake and trading two-way midfielder Cam Flint to the Outlaws. Creighton doesn’t have gaudy statistics, but his physicality and tough inside play as a win/defensive/transition middie bodes well for minutes in the MLL. There isn’t a lot of depth at the defensive midfield position – it’s basically just Creighton and Laconi – but if either Creighton or Laconi slides they would be great pick-ups for the Cannons.
Jack Runkel, Loyola (53.6 save percentage, 8.75 Goals Against Average): He might not be anyone first choice goalie in this draft – he might not even get drafted at all, but after Austin Kaut (61 sv %, 7.37 GAA) and Niko Amato (59.4 sv %, 7.98 GAA) he’s the next best choice. Back-up goalie isn’t necessarily the most coveted of positions, but every team has to dress two for each game on the 19 man roster and sometimes those guys force themselves into the starting spot when they are given the chance. Jordan Burke says what? Kip turner who? What? Exactly. Is Runkel an MLL caliber goalie? Not out of the box, no, but if Boston can’t get Kaut or Amato he might be worth developing. He’s definitely a different brand of netminder than Jordan Burke.
Teams aren’t rebuilt with one draft and anything can happen. The Ohio Machine had one of the best drafts on paper in the history of the league last year and it didn’t help them increase their win total. The collegiate draft is as exciting as it gets until opening day, so put some stock into what your team does Friday night. The answer isn’t one pick away for the Cannons, but getting a few of the right guys makes a decent team much better and maybe – just maybe – a team that underachieved into a playoff contender.