The Opening Weekend Preview
By Josh Schafer | Jun 3, 2022
After 257 long days, the Premier Lacrosse League is back. There’s plenty of storylines to preview heading into the league’s fourth season, but if you’ve been following recent sports headlines, there’s nothing more enthralling in sports than a fantasy game.
So let’s break down the Player Royale and lay out how you can win bragging rights in the group chat.
The nuts and bolts: Pick five players across five different positions and square off against an opponent in a fantasy football-style matchup. The players are split into tiers and selections in each tier are limited. Tiers are determined by player performance and will be updated weekly. On first glance, it appears a consistent two-point shooter could be lethal, a dominant face-off specialist with a good matchup is essential, and a goalie that will tally saves but more importantly limit goals against could matter the most.
Here's my roster for the week:
- Lyle Thompson, A, Cannons LC
- Zach Currier, M, Waterdogs LC
- Brett Kennedy, LSM, Chaos LC
- Joe Nardella, FO, Whipsnakes LC
- Adam Ghitelman, G, Archers LC
Now, let’s break down the matchups we’ll see in Albany on Saturday and Sunday. See each Player to Watch section for why I chose a player from that game for my Player Royale squad.
Whipsnakes LC vs. Chaos LC
Saturday, June 4 at 2:15 p.m. ET | ESPN+
All-time series: Whipsnakes lead 5-2
Stat to know: 49
Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne combined for 49 points last season to lead the Chaos offense. Neither will play on Saturday. Chaos will start the season a bit shorthanded given several players' prior commitments with the National Lacrosse League. While not ideal for the defending champions, missing roughly 10 expected contributors will provide an opportunity to see new faces over the next few weeks. Which players emerge as potential contributors and how those performances translate into midseason playing time battles will be the number one story to watch for Chaos in June.
Player Royale to consider: Whipsnakes faceoff specialist Joe Nardella
Nardella won 57% of his faceoffs last year, good for third in the league and eight percent behind the league’s best in Trevor Baptiste and TD Ierlan. But while those two square-off this weekend, Nardella draws the one of the worst faceoff teams in the PLL through the league’s first three years. As a tier two player, this is an easy value play.
I’m also taking Brett Kennedy from this game at the defense spot. I sought value in this slot and think Kennedy’s tenacity will lead to ground balls. As an added bonus, he’s fast and likes to get involved in the fast break, so there’s potential for added points there.
Why the Whipsnakes: The case for a Whipsnakes starts with who Chaos won’t have. With Chaos missing so many offensive players, it’s easy to see a case where an offense led by Matt Rambo anchored by Joe Nardella at the stripe wins this game. The Whipsnakes will need to find supplemental scoring without Zed Wiliams but Nardella’s ability to win possessions could prove pivotal in what might be a low scoring affair.
Why Chaos: Picking Chaos in this game is picking a defensive battle. Chaos has proven to have the defensive juggernaut to hold back a potent Whipsnakes offensive. Without Williams in the lineup, top cover defenseman Jack Rowlett could likely move onto Rambo and alter how the Whipsnakes initiate offense further. The biggest question for Chaos entering this game is who scores the rock? If it’s a pass-first kind of offense looking for a quick finish in the middle, watch out for PLL rookie Bradley Voigt.
The pick: While the Whipsnakes don’t have Zed, they’re still winning the pregame handicap battle here and they have to be the pick until we know what Chaos looks like without so many key players.
Redwoods LC vs. Atlas LC
Saturday, June 4 at 5 p.m. ET | ESPN
All-time series: Tied 2-2
Stat to know: 31.4%
The Redwoods allowed goals on 31.4 percent of possessions last season. Only one team in the PLL (the Whipsnakes) was worse. If the Redwoods are to finally get over the hump the defense needs to improve. Through the first two seasons, the Redwoods prided themselves on defense but last year the wheels fell off. A potent offense provides an interesting early test for the Redwoods Week 1.
Player Royale to consider: Redwoods midfielder Myles Jones
While I didn’t take a player from this game on my team, there’s an obvious Tier 1 pick here. Assuming Jones continues to spread the rock like he did last year, he’ll likely be one of the most lethal players in the Player Royale all year. He’s a threat from two-point range (which are worth 10 points each) and is an offensive points machine between scoring and assists.
Why Atlas: This won’t be a game dominated at the faceoff stripe by either Trevor Baptiste or TD Ierlan. Both players are too talented for one to lead the charge. Atlas came on strong last year but now enters this season with more questions on how its offense will mesh together. Jeff Teat can score or create goals with a nifty pass on seemingly any possession or in any scenario but it’s unclear how that plays out in the team’s first full game together. Watch for how Chris Gray fits into the offense and how that changes over the next few weeks as players settle into their roles.
Why the Redwoods: The case for the Redwoods is built on a familiarity. The core pieces of the Redwoods offense remains intact. Barring a defensive collapse, Redwoods could likely slow this game down and dominate in settled offense. If the best set offense in the PLL last season, which scored on 33.5% of settled opportunities, can control the pace of the offense then the ‘Woods will roll.
The pick: While Atlas finished last season hot, experience and consistency prevail in the dawn of a new season.
Cannons LC vs. Waterdogs LC
Sunday June 5 at 1 p.m. ET | ESPN+
All-time series: Tied 1-1
Stat to know: 19.7%
No team defended transition better than the Waterdogs last season, who allowed opponents to score on roughly one out of every five transition opportunities. The Cannons ranked second in transition offense. The Waterdogs have emphasized two-way midfielders and playing quick down the field both ways through the past two seasons. The Cannons have just one traditional midfielder listed at the position on their roster. How much the Waterdogs dominate the middle of the field could decide the game,
Player Royale to consider: Cannons attack Lyle Thompson, No. 4
I’m taking Lyle for obvious reasons. Mainly, when in doubt play the hits and I’m happy to ride with one of the world’s best. When healthy last year, Thompson poured in four points against the Waterdogs in a dominant performance by the Cannons. That was with Paul Rabil on the team. Now, Thompson is the main veteran leader of an offense searching for an identity. I’m riding with Thompson simply because I know the ball will be in his stick often and that almost always leads to points.
Why the Cannons: The case for the Cannons always starts with Thompson. But the Cannons as a whole could have the advantage here largely due to a key Waterdogs absence in starting goalie Dillon Ward. The Cannons have made a clear emphasis on creating offense, including adding a collegiate stud in Asher Nolting, but the looming question is how it all meshes together. The upside for head coach Sean Quirk and company is that even if the team doesn’t click as a whole, Thompson is the kind of player that can take over a game.
Why the Waterdogs: The Waterdogs probably have the advantage at the stripe here with Jake Withers and typically strong wing play. Michael Sowers, who flashed briefly last season before injury sidelined him for much of the season, should bring stability to the offense. As mentioned previously, the biggest questions for the Waterdogs lies in between the pipes, not because of prior performance from Matt DeLluca but rather Ward’s constant dominance.
The pick: In a game of opposing styles, the Waterdogs win this game in transition by attacking before the Cannons can substitute their offensive midfielders.
Archers LC vs. Chrome LC
Sunday June 5 at 3:45 p.m. ET | ESPN+
All-time series: Archers lead 4-1
Stat to know: 27.4%
Chrome had the least efficient offense in the league last year. That’s worth noting particularly because the Archers had the best defense in the PLL. Last year’s game finished low scoring in a 8-7 Chrome victory and Sunday may be similar if the Archers struggle offensively without last year’s points leader Grant Ament who’s week-to-week with an injury. For the bettors out there, this might be a game to consider the under at 23.5.
Player Royale to consider: Archers goalie Adam Ghitelman
Ghitelman isn’t considered a top tier player despite a very solid 2021 campaign in which he finished with the highest save percentage in the league (62%). Ghitelman’s downside came in the Archers' goalie rotation which left him fifth in the league in saves. But assuming his goals against will be low against a lackluster Chrome offense, Ghitelman is the value play at goalie this week if you aren’t looking to go top tier in the crease.
Why the Archers: Just looking at last year’s stats it’s hard not to like the Archers in this one. Even without Ament, they pose a serious offensive threat and will once again have a strong defense. Given what Chrome has lost on both sides of the ball, experience will favor the Archers in the season opener.
Why Chrome: Chrome lost a significant portion of veteran leadership including goalie John Galloway, long-stick midfielder Joel White and attackmen Ned Crotty and Jordan Wolf. While there’s always downside in finding a new identity, Chrome might’ve needed one and will certainly have an injection of youth to help rediscover itself. From players that broke out last year in Colin Heacock and Jackson Morrill to top pick Logan Wisnauskas, the attack will be stacked. If Connor Farrell has a solid day on the stripe, Chrome could possibly run with the Archers.
The pick: In an opening weekend matchup, you have to side with experience here. It’s the Archers purely based off what we’ve seen on tape to date.