3 Things the Redwoods Can Do With the Second Pick
By Jerome Taylor | Apr 17, 2023
On Tuesday, the PLL announced that the 2023 College Draft will occur on May 9th on ESPNU. And many fans and scouts alike have started to predict who will be the first player taken in this year’s draft. And that has a lot of ramifications for the Redwoods, who will pick second after finishing 4-6 last year. So let’s look at how they could use that pick for a better 2023.
Draft the Best Player Available
In most sports, the preferred “when in doubt” strategy is drafting the best player available. Mainly because these picks tend to be players with high floors, and according to the first version of Paul Carcaterra’s Big Board, the two top players in this year’s draft are Cornell defenseman Gavin Adler and Penn midfielder Sam Handley.
Despite being undersized at 5’10, Adler has excellent footwork and speed and knows how to use angles to challenge (and sometimes outright erase) the opposing team’s best offensive player. In the 2022 season, Adler’s positioning and controlled aggression resulted in 34 caused turnovers, and he scooped up 75 ground balls en route to a 1st-Team All-American nod.
During Cornell’s runner-up campaign, he was essential in forcing the 25+ minute scoring drought in the Championship game against a historic Maryland team. So far in 2023, he’s followed that up with 16 caused turnovers and 46 groundballs, and he’s been a leader for Big Red as they’ve raced out to an 8-2 start this season.
The second player on Carcaterra’s Big Board is Handley, who’s more decorated than a Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. The 6’5, 230lb middie is a clear contrast size-wise to Adler, and he uses height to see over the defense for potential passing or scoring opportunities. The former basketball player also has a knack for “posting up” smaller defenders on the field to get an advantage, and he also has top-tier straight-line speed to blow by slower opposition. Not to mention, he’s a highly-effective time and room shooter with expansive range.
He established himself as an offensive force when he arrived on Walnut Street. As a freshman, his 1st-team all-American campaign saw him register 61 points (35 goals, 26 assists). Last year, in his first full season after a spleen injury and the COVID-19 canceled season, he tallied 73 points (36 goals, 37 assists), won the Donald J. MacLaughlin Jr. Award, and was a finalist for the Tewaaraton.
The production and potential are there for both players. So if ‘Woods opt for the ‘best available’ strategy when the second pick rolls around, their fans should be happy with the selection.
Draft the Best Fit
If the draft goes according to the first version of Carcaterra’s Big Board, then Handley would be waiting for the Redwoods. But does he fit with the ‘Woods as currently constructed?
If you were running down a list of trouble spots on the Redwoods roster, midfield wouldn’t be on there. Myles Jones, Jules Heningburg, and Charlie Bertrand made last year’s top 50 players list. And Bertrand, a lefty like Handley, was #28 on that list. So who’d be the odd man out?
Secondly, it’s no secret that this year’s class is one of the deepest defensive draft classes in recent memory. Four of the top 6 players on Carcaterra’s Big Board are poles, including Maryland’s Brett Makar, Delaware’s Owen Grant, and Georgetown’s Will Bowen. All three were named to last year’s all-American team (Makar and Bowen were named to the first team, Grant was second team), and Bowen took home last year’s William C. Schmeisser Award for best defenseman.
Suffice it to say this is a great time to be in the market for young defensemen, and the ‘Woods are definitely shopping.
“You have to start factoring in a lot of other moving pieces in terms of players retiring, and off-season moves personnel-wise,” Redwoods LC Head Coach and General Manager Nat St. Laurent said. “We gotta make sure that we're pretty strategic in the people we bring in, and they're gonna fill voids.”
The voids left on this year’s Redwoods team came from the departure of seven-time all-star Kyle Hartzell and 2019 all-star Finn Sullivan, who both went to the Cannons in free agency. On top of that, SSDM Patrick Harbeson retired. And one of the returning defenders, Eddy Glazener, is coming off an Achilles injury, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see the pick used on a defensive player, regardless of what Atlas does with the first pick.
Trade the Pick
But they don’t have to make the pick.
The Woods didn’t just lose players in free agency, but they were active in acquiring them too. So they’ve already crossed off some of their roster needs this offseason.
“I think that this year's free agency has had a huge impact on the draft. I don't know if people talk about that enough,” St. Laurent said. “For instance, when the season ended, we were looking for a couple of things, and then when free agency started, we were able to fill a couple of those voids… bring in some veterans players that we'd either coached before or have some chemistry with some guys on the team.”
The two offseason moves St. Laurent is alluding to are the signings of Wes Berg and Ryan Tierney. Berg played with the Redwoods in 2019 before being snagged in the expansion draft by the Waterdogs the following year.
So with some of the offensive holes filled in free agency, that leaves the defensive needs to draft. And in a draft this deep with defensive talent, you could snag a high-level defender in the second half of the first round or later.
“I've been coaching pro lacrosse now for 10 years, and I think this is the best defensive draft I've seen in quite a long time, and we know that going into it,” St. Laurent said.
So in a deep defensive draft, St. Laurent may find it more valuable to hit multiple extra-base hits than relying on one big swing. Or he could make a move to grab some picks in next year’s draft, which will likely include players like CJ Kirst, Pat Kavanagh, Brennan O'Neill, Connor Shellenberger, and Ajax Zappitello. And that’s if he wants more picks, he could prefer to look around the league at the established talent that will fit at the top of his defense or further strengthen his offense.
Also, St. Laurent’s no stranger to using trades to bolster his roster. Myles Jones, Jules Heningburg, and Rob Pannell have all been acquired via trade. And in 2021, when the ‘Woods acquired Pannell, he used picks to get it done. So we could be in store for a similar move as we get closer to May 9th.