Finally. Rob Pannell is joining the PLL. Along with Zach Currier, a pool of experienced poles (Jesse Bernhardt, Ryland Rees, Eli Gobrecht, Jason Noble, Finn Sullivan, Craig Chick), All-World goalie Dillon Ward, and others. Here are the Top 10 players eligible for the Entry Draft on March 16.
Finn Sullivan, D, Hofstra
Finn Sullivan has experience anchoring dominant professional defenses. His 2018 team held opponents to 21.3% shooting on unassisted drives from X – a stat that has historically been a prerequisite for a championship defense. That metric becomes even more important now that Rob Pannell is in the league.
Stopping Pannell (plus Matt Rambo, Jordan Wolf, Connor Fields, Jules Heningburg, and others) is the top priority for a defense. Slide to X repeatedly, and you open up either the inside for finishers or the perimeter for stepdown shooters.
Sullivan could be that cover guy – maybe on a younger defense like the Chrome or the Waterdogs. He will most likely slide in as a help defender. Hofstra defenders are notoriously “Turnpike Tough.” Sullivan will bring a nasty edge wherever he lands, and is bound for a de-twigging Crease Collapse of the Week appearance.
TJ Comizio, SSDM, Villanova
Short-stick defensive midfield is an underappreciated position. Prior to the expansion draft, we saw how much coaches value the position: Three teams (Archers, Atlas, Whipsnakes) protected two SSDMs.
Comizio can hold his own – and then some – on an island. He’s a graduate of Caused Turnover University (also known as Villanova). In 60 games at Villanova, Comizio caused 61 turnovers. Shorties aren’t supposed to put up those numbers.
Eli Gobrecht, D, Ithaca
Gobrecht hounded dodgers for four years at Ithaca, causing 166 turnovers in his career. He can match feet with the quickest attackmen. At halftime of the 2018 championship, he was asked to shut off Jordan Wolf. Gobrecht’s pressure helped his team settle down. They allowed nine goals in the first half – then only three with Gobrecht on Wolf.
Jason Noble, D, Cornell
The Hill Academy product is one of Brodie Merrill’s many understudies in the pros. He’s a two-time member of Team Canada, winning a gold medal in 2014 and silver in 2018.
Zed Williams, A/M, Virginia
People forget that Zed Williams scored 444 goals in his high school career. Four hundred and forty four! Try to wrap your head around that. That math makes more sense when you learn that he played varsity as an eighth grader, but then your mind is blown by the fact that he was a 100-point varsity player as an eighth grader.
Zed is a pure lacrosse player in the sense that he will do anything: take faceoff wings, score (again, 444 goals!), or feed. He’s unconventional in the sense that he does none of those in a textbook way. His shots are devilishly deceptive – leaners, twisters, you name it. He throws bounce passes. He’s a backyard-style player; you can sense how much fun he is having every time he steps on the field.
His change-of-direction – especially as a pick sets up – is silky smooth. He will be a perfect pick-and-roll partner in a league hungry for righty wing pick-and-roll operators. He could dance with Dhane Smith (Chaos) or Jordan MacIntosh (Chrome) or Wes Berg and Ben McIntosh (Waterdogs).
Dillon Ward, G, Bellarmine
Two-time All-World goalie Dillon Ward is unlike any goalie in the league. The Ontario native plays on an insanely high arc – somewhere between the thermosphere and exosphere. His 6-foot-5 frame takes up a lot of space, especially when his heels are on the crease. The goalie play in PLL was ridiculous in 2019; it’ll only get better with Ward between the pipes.
Ryland Rees, LSM, Stony Brook
Months after wrapping up his junior year of college, Rees went to Israel and turned in an All-World performance for Team Canada. The Stony Brook product can turn defense to offense in a hurry.
Jesse Bernhardt, D, Maryland
The Maryland product – and current Maryland defensive coordinator – is the top pole in a defensive-heavy draft. He’s versatile; he will play down low or up top. Bernhardt does his job on-ball and off-ball. A few teams at the bottom of the order want him. They’ll need to trade up, because he ain’t slipping.
Rob Pannell, A, Cornell
Good offenses need balance. Balance between right- and left-handed players, between midfielders and attackmen, and between dodgers and finishers. Most offenses have established an equilibrium. Injecting Pannell into the lineup would throw that off in the short term for a chance to become something greater in the long run.
A talented roster that clicks together is the best case scenario. It’s why the Houston Rockets made a move for Chris Paul (and then dealt Paul for Russell Westbrook) despite having James Harden. Stockpile talent and figure out the fit down the road. The best fits for Pannell on paper: Archers LC (flanked by Marcus Holman and Will Manny) or Atlas LC (flanked by Eric Law and Ryan Brown). But that doesn’t mean those are the only landing spots.
Pannell won a gold medal with Team USA in 2018 on a team void of left-handed attackmen. He played alongside Jordan Wolf (another ball-dominant X attackman!) on that team, too. Let’s not overcomplicate this – he will produce points on any attack line in this league.
Chrome picks second in the entry draft. Head coach Tim Soudan should be targeting defense after losing Chris Sabia in the Expansion Draft and Joe Fletcher to retirement. Before passing on Pannell (if he’s available), Coach Soudan should explore the trade market. See if the Archers are willing to package picks to jump ahead of the Atlas. Or let RP3 fall to the United States of Atlas.
Zach Currier, M, Princeton
Versatile midfielders dominated the PLL last summer, from true two-way guys (Jake Bernhardt, Brent Adams, Sergio Perkovic) to offensive midfielders who can get in the hole (Jake Froccaro, John Haus, Drew Snider, John Crawley, Tom Schreiber, John Ranagan) to defensive midfielders who can push in transition (Kyle McClancy, Pat Harbeson, Jack Near).
Currier can be categorized as a true two-way midfielder. At Princeton, he scored 55 goals, dished 69 assists, scooped 302 groundballs, caused 55 turnovers, and came off the field zero times.
His style of play was built for the PLL’s 100-yard field and 52-second shot clock. More than a fifth (20.6%) of all shots last summer were on fast breaks. Another 9.2% came on slow breaks while both teams are substituting without a clear numbers advantage either way. There’s a huge chunk of the game being decided in unsettled situations.
“I really don’t want to be a team that just subs all game,” Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan told me following the Expansion Draft. “And then before you know it, you spend 30% of the game subbing and 70% of the game trying to score a goal. I think we can sub less and hopefully be more productive.”
Players like Currier make the shot clock feel longer when you’re on offense and shorter when you’re on defense. His motor makes him a perfect fit for this league and for the Waterdogs with the top pick.