2017 NLL Season Preview: New England Black Wolves

Who’s In: Seth Oakes, Doug Jamieson, Scott Self, Jay Thorimbert, Chad Culp, Matt Spanger, Reilly O’Connor

Who’s Out: Andrew Suitor, Jordan Hall, Mike McNamara, Jimmy Purves, John Ranagan, Tye Belanger

Who’s Back: Shawn Evans, Pat Saunders, Kevin Buchanan, Kyle Buchanan, Kevin Crowley, Evan Kirk, Zac Reid, Ryan Hotaling, Sheldon Burns, Derek Suddons, Brett Manney, Brett Bucktooth, Bill O’Brien

Injuries: Derek Searle

Practice Roster: Mitch McMichael, Dan Ball, Joel Coyle, Connor Brown

Last Year’s Notes: The third best offense in the league brought in the headlines, but anchored by Evan Kirk in the crease, New England’s defense was surprisingly solid as well.

New England went 10-8 last season following a disappointing 4-14 campaign in their first season in Connecticut. What changed? The addition of Evans for certain, along with the performances of Saunders, Kyle Buchanan, and Kirk exceeding expectations.

Evans was second in the NLL with 118 points and Crowley produced 90 of his own in his first year back after being traded to Toronto midway through the season before. New England shot the ball more than any other team last season, and with talent like Evans and Crowley, that’s not surprising.

Saunders had broken out the season before with 68 points, and after signing back as a restricted free agent, his 76 points eclipsed his career high. Meanwhile, Kevin Buchanan quietly had his best ever season in the NLL, with 62 points. He also tied his career high with 38 goals, and contributed nine playoff goals in the eventual eastern conference finals loss to Buffalo.

Kirk’s 11.79 goals against average was the third best in his career, and the best mark he had in New England. The defense has a new look in 2017 in some departments, but 20 points from Sheldon Burns and the ability to play out of both doors opened several avenues for New England. With the worst penalty kill in the league last season, the development of players like Burns, along with the addition of Thorimbert and others, could resolve that problem.

Projections: The Black Wolves have established a base for themselves for years to come, and this could be the start of something special for this group. Players like Crowley and Saunders are veterans but still young, and if Oakes can develop, that’s even more young talent.

Any team with Evans is going to be able to score, but if anything, the defense is something to watch with this team. Suddons was already an anchor and Burns started to become a lead defender as the year went on. Manney as well, with the addition of Thorimbert with him, created a D core deep enough to be able to afford to cut a player like McNamara.

It’s hard pressed to find a defense that is improved with a player like Suitor not involved any longer. The key for this defense still is trust in Kirk to expand upon his career year, because while Jamieson is highly touted, having a rookie in net would make this entire team a different story.

This is one of the first times in recent memory this franchise, previously the Philadelphia Wings, made so many splashes to sign players from other teams. Trading for Evans last off season was the first shock, but then a player like Thorimbert, a veteran out of Buffalo, who led the NLL in faceoff wins last season, is something the old regime wouldn’t have attempted.

Coupled with a veteran scorer like Culp, and a player like Self, and the Black Wolves have gone from the youngest and most inexperienced team year in and year out to one of the more experienced clubs. Culp is a former 20 goal scorer, and while he’s been around for a bit now, he could be re-energized playing with forwards like Evans and Saunders.

1 Comment on "2017 NLL Season Preview: New England Black Wolves"

  1. i don’t think signing both culp and self was a help, one of them for locker room leadership would had been enough. i hated losing john ranagan.

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