Revisiting the 2022 Cannons-Atlas draft day deal: Should Boston have kept its first-round pick?

By PLL | May 7, 2024

The beauty of draft day is that it’s unpredictable. As was the New York Atlas making moves in the 2022 draft to secure the 2023 first overall pick. 

The Atlas sent picks Nos. 11 and 24 picks in 2022 to the Boston Cannons for the No. 1 pick in the 2023 College Draft, which New York used to draft former Cornell defenseman Gavin Adler.

With the Cannons’ acquired picks in 2022, they nabbed former Maryland defensive midfielder Bubba Fairman (No. 11) and former Rutgers goalie Colin Kirst (No. 24).

But was it worth it? And if so, who for? Let’s break it down.

Why it was done

Lauren Merola, Atlas beat writer: The Atlas’ needs in 2022 were far scarcer than they are now. With their two first-round picks then, they secured attackman Chris Gray and LSM Koby Smith. Then it seemed it was time to look to the future.

The leader on the close defense, Tucker Durkin, was in the last lap of his career and the coaching staff knew so. They also anticipated the 2023 draft was defense-heavy. So they traded  away expendable, immediate assets for future needs. 

Sarah Griffin, Cannons beat writer: At the time of the 2022 draft, the Cannons were coming off their first season in the PLL. It was a relatively sufficient inaugural season in the sense they won three regular-season games and made the playoffs, all while trying to build team chemistry and identity with an entirely new squad. 

After Paul Rabil retired following the end of the 2021 season, it was obvious they’d need some offensive firepower, either by free agency or in the 2022 draft. However, the Cannons were without a first-round pick, coincidentally due to a trade with the Atlas the year before in exchange for Rabil. 

The Cannons took attackman Asher Nolting at 10th in the second round, but as then-head coach and general manager Sean Quirk continued to navigate what his team would look like in their sophomore season, at the time it seemed most beneficial to gain more picks in this draft; the window for success in 2022 seemed worth risking the first overall pick in 2023. 

Would you do it again?

Merola: Let’s see, with the pick the Atlas received from the trade, they got Adler and then drafted defenseman Brett Makar at No. 3. In a counter move, defenseman Cade van Raaphorst was released in June. 

Van Raaphorst was picked up by who else but the Cannons and provided a spark for them in a 2023 season that saw the Atlas defense struggle immensely. Short term – the draft-day trade didn’t prove beneficial. But this wasn’t a short-term strategy.

This season will finally see the draft-day vision become a reality when Makar slots in down low – to his natural position after playing LSM last season – for the newly retired Durkin. The close defense will be Adler, Makar and Michael Rexrode, a trio Atlas coach and general manager Mike Pressler feels strongly about, calling them the core for “right now and the future.”

It’s too early to assess whether I’d truly authorize this trade to happen again without seeing the new close defense operate in a game, but being that the Atlas defense only got younger and faster from this deal, albeit it took a season to kick in, I’m leaning yes – no time machines needed here.

Griffin: If you had asked me if I’d make this trade again following the Cannons’ 2022 season, I’d say absolutely not. That’s no disrespect to Fairman or Kirst obviously, as they’ve become such integral members of this team. It’s more so after a one-win season in 2022 and the departure of Lyle Thompson, no team needed that number one overall pick more than the Cannons in the 2023 draft.

Ultimately, with such a defensive-heavy draft class last season, the Atlas used that pick for Adler. While he would’ve been a great addition to the Cannons’ back end, defense wasn’t the team’s top concern. They lucked out once again in the second round with picking midfielder Matt Campbell at ninth overall. And with the results head coach and general manager Brian Holman saw from his team in his first season at the realms, I’d say he’s not too bent out of shape about missing out on that number one pick. 

The team Holman’s assembled now is one founded on a near-perfect balance between veterans and youth. The Cannons wouldn’t be the Cannons without Kirst, Fairman and Campbell. So though it seemed the Atlas “won” the trade the first year or so of the deal, looking back now? I’d make this trade every time. 

Trade grade

Merola: I’m rolling with a B+. Adler himself is a stellar pickup for defense with what we’ve seen in his rookie year, but the Atlas gave up a pick the Cannons used to draft a starting goalie, which New York is in need of now. Missing out on Kirst is unfortunate, but the Atlas can draft one of two standout netminders Tuesday.

New York doesn’t have to worry about its close defense heading into the 2024 draft. In fact, it’s one of the only position groups it doesn’t have to worry about. The speed and mobility expected out of the Atlas defense this year is a sheer improvement alone from last. That’ll help the Atlas be better in slides on transition defense (their Achilles heel in 2023) and improve from its league-worst scores against average (14) and league-worst caused turnovers (54).

Offense can no longer – and should no longer – be the Atlas’ best defense.

Griffin: If you told me a year ago I’d give this trade an A-, I’d call you crazy. And maybe I am — but the impact of all three of those guys on this Cannons team cannot be understated. They took the 24th pick and got their franchise goalie out of it! In Fairman’s second professional season, he was a George Boiardi Hard Hat nominee for his play at SSDM, and Campbell a Rookie of the Year nominee and key component of Boston’s offensive unit. 

The Cannons would not have had the success they did last year without all three of these guys, and all three are young players Holman can build around for years to come. They say “only rainbows after rain,” and that certainly seems to be the case for this team the last two seasons.