Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Look at Prospects for Today's MSL Draft

Chris Cloutier is the top prospect for the MSL draft. He was a star at North
Carolina and in junior box lacrosse. 
Draft day is here. The 2017 Major Series Lacrosse draft of graduating juniors will take place shortly after 1 pm today in Whitby. The draft will be live tweeted on the MSL Twitter account, so you can follow along as it happens. In the meantime, we'll take a look at some of the most enticing prospects available.

Bear in mind that 14 of the best players in this draft class were protected by the the MSL teams affiliated with their Jr A clubs. Teams can protect up to four players each. Peterborough and Oakville protected the maximum, Six Nations three players and the other three teams one player each. The full list of protected players is available in an earlier story on the MSL site.

One player stands as the clear the top selection in the draft. Chris Cloutier is a star lefty forward. He comes from the Kitchener-Waterloo Braves program, although he was traded away each of the last two years to teams making Minto Cup runs: the Coquitlam Adanacs in 2015 and the Six Nations Arrows in 2016.

Cloutier has been on the radar for MSL and NLL teams since he broke into the OLA Jr A loop as a 17-year-old. He was called up for the playoffs and was a significant contributor for the KW Kodiaks in the playoffs each of his first three years of junior. Until the Kodiaks moved to Cobourg in 2016, it was always assumed he would be protected by them when he graduated junior. Since Cobourg's affiliation switched to the Toronto Beaches with the move, Braves grads are now open for the draft.

Cloutier reached a single-season high of 89 points (including 48 goals) in 2014. His totals were lower in his final two seasons of junior but his points per game were higher as he played only partial seasons because he was away at school. There's no question that Cloutier is an elite prospect with the potential to be a special player at the major and professional levels.

The major question for Cloutier is whether he will report if Cobourg uses the first overall pick to select him, as it is expected they will. There is speculation that Cloutier may choose either to play Sr B with the newly formed KW Velocity so he can stay close to home or request a transfer so he can play in the Western Lacrosse Association. Even if that is the case, it's hard to imagine the Kodiaks not ensuring that they acquire his MSL rights by taking him first.

The team that provides the most excitement in many draft years is the Orangeville Northmen. With no affiliation to an MSL team, the Northmen's consistently successful program produces players with winning pedigrees from a system known for instilling great lacrosse sense in its graduates. This year is no exception; they have seven players graduating who qualify as Orangevillers.

Leading the way from the Northmen are a pair of players who should excite MSL general managers and coaches. Joel Coyle is a solid and smart defender who was drafted by the New England Black Wolves last fall. He's been playing with the Arena Lacrosse League's Paris RiverWolves. Jamie Dubrick is the head coach of both the RiverWolves and the Kodiaks, so he will be familiar with Coyle's skill set.

Goalie Nolan Clayton surprisingly went undrafted by the NLL last fall. He was partly a victim of three other high-level prospects being selected in the second round, which saturated the goalie market. Clayton went save-for-save with Coquitlam Adanacs star Christian Del Bianco at the Minto Cup as he and the Northmen almost pulled out the championship in a Canadian Jr A championship for the ages. He's had some ups and downs with the ALL's Peterborough Timbermen but is a solid long-term goaltending prospect.

The Brampton Excelsiors have the second overall pick in the draft. They're expected to take Halton Hills Jr B Bulldogs forward Connor Brown. The big-body lefty three times scored more than 100 points with the Bulldogs and had an 83-point season (along with 105 penalty minutes) in a full Jr A season with Orangeville in 2014.

That leaves Cobourg with the third and fourth picks, assuming they don't trade either of them. The Kodiaks could grab both Coyle and Clayton or they could look elsewhere. Below are some of the other players available in the draft.

Garrett Lewis and Jerrett Smith, defenders, Toronto Beaches
Cobourg won't likely be selecting either of this pair early on, since they could have protected them from the draft but chose not to. Later on, though, the Kodiaks will join other teams that could consider Lewis or Smith. There's a difference between protecting a player and drafting him because if you protect him then you have to remove someone from your current active roster to make room. Cobourg chose not to do that.

Lewis is a steady defender who went to camp with the Black Wolves and is playing pretty well for the Timbermen in ALL. Smith is rawer but has a higher upside than any other defender who'll be available in the draft. He's fairly new to the game and has lots to learn, making him unlikely to be immediately ready for a regular role with most MSL teams. As a project, though, his athleticism and his improvement last year with the Beaches suggest he could turn out to be a gem. One problem is that he lives in Winnipeg. Smith is willing, in fact eager, to move back to Ontario to play, so there's no issue there. The team that drafts him would need to help him find a place to live and should be helping him find work. That's a big commitment for a player who may or may not be ready to make your team. He did well in Black Wolves camp, though, and could provide a big return on investment for a team that is able to be patient.

Danton Miller's stock is uncertain because he played most of his junior career with the Jr B Six Nations Rebels. He's clearly talented, though, enough to have been drafted by the Vancouver Stealth, and he's among the leading scorers early in the ALL season. Skilled lefty forwards are always in demand.

Dereck Downs is another lefty forward. He scored 115 points over two seasons with the Mimico Mountaineers then was traded to Coquitlam last summer and helped them win the Minto Cup.

Mimico's Matthew Lee isn't the tallest player, but he's solidly built and has good hands. His quick feet allow him to find openings in the defence and he has the skill to make his chances count. Scored 87 points in two years with Mimico and also racked up 114 minutes in penalties.

Another trio of Northmen will attract attention. Dallas Bridle and Lucas Ducharme are both righty forwards. Neither played a starring role in Orangeville but both were solid depth contributors. Bridle scored 140 points in four seasons and is a solid banger with some skill. Ducharme also scored 140 points, but over three seasons. He's more willowy and his game is more finesse-based than Bridle's.

Jamie McMahon was called by Orangeville coach DJ Clevely “the smartest lacrosse player I've ever coached.” That is high praise coming from the Northmen system. McMahon is talented, has an elite-level lacrosse IQ and can play effectively at either end of the floor. He was drafted by Toronto with the 50th selection of last fall's NLL draft and surely would have gone higher were he not generously listed at 5'9” and 155 pounds.

Drake Smith is best known as the brother of superstar Dhane Smith but has his own skill set that will draw attention. He was drafted 47th by Buffalo after producing a career-high 59 points in his last year with the KW Braves.

Andy Campbell has bounced around, winding up with Coquitlam in 2015 and Orangeville in 2016. He's a big lefty forward with decent hands, so there will be interest. The knocks on him are his foot speed and that he doesn't play the physical game his size would suggest he could.

A pair of Peterborough Lakers defenders are likely to be taken in the draft. Brett Coons is a big body who played for the Jr C Lakers then moved up to Jr A. He is performing well with the Timbermen and didn't look out of place last summer in a one-game callup with the Sr Lakers. He may not be ready for a regular role but could grow into a strong depth defender quickly and contribute for the long term. Dylan Hutchison plays primarily D but did move up and provide some adequate offensive support when the Jr A Lakers needed him to. He was considered a strong candidate to go in the NLL draft but played poorly at the Combine and went undrafted. He needs to add strength but has potential to develop into a solid depth player.

Logan Holmes' fate in the draft will be interesting to see. He's a talented forward who ripped it up with Windsor in Jr. B. But what exactly does scoring a ton with a team in a weak Jr B league mean you can accomplish at higher levels? How a team answers that question will determine where they will rank him among this year's prospects. He's played a couple of games with Paris in the ALL. He had a hat trick in his first, was virtually invisible in his second and added five assists in his third. Holmes missed the RiverWolves fourth game yesterday because he was suspended for jumping off the bench to try to fight Peterborough's Broedie Birkhof at the end of their game. That says more for his courage than his common sense, as Birkhof has a long history with his fists.

A few Jr B transition players have shown some promise early in the ALL season, which could help push them into draft consideration they may not have received had they not played in the league. Kyle Pedwell, Ryan Carruthers and Brandon Petter will be interesting names to keep an eye out for.

The draft isn't far away, so we'll soon see how it all plays out.