2018 NLL Projected Award Winners: Stars Will Emerge

Saying goodbye to the nine-team NLL will not be easy.

Fans have enjoyed it for five years, and now a sixth is about to begin. Prolonged parity has meant the highest level of play imaginable but, come next summer, teams will begin to be stripped of players to stock expansion teams. San Diego and Philadelphia are the first and more are sure to follow.

An era that will be talked about many years from now is about to end.

Here is a glance at possible winners in the various award categories:

Stay tuned for in-season coverage of the 2017-2018 NLL season from US Lacrosse Magazine's Neil Stevens.


Lyle Thompson

He led the NLL with 116 points including 45 goals and won the MVP award in only his second season. Given the amount of talent the Georgia Swarm have up front, it’s easy to predict Thompson will increase that total this season. He was drafted first overall in 2015, so he is still far from being in his prime. Look for a great player to be even greater this season for the reigning champions.


Sheldon Burns

The New England Black Wolves got nine goals from Burns off transition breaks last season –  nobody scored more – and will again be running the floor in style. Although used mainly as a checker, he’s got a great scoring touch.


Damon Edwards

He missed the 2016 season rehabbing from knee surgery, but returned to check the top players on opposing teams and score eight goals on fast breaks to help Toronto go from a non-playoff entry to a division finalist. If he plays that well again this season, the Rock – reinforced up front with the return of Rob Hellyer from knee surgery rehab and the acquisition through trade of established scorer Adam Jones – can be a championship contender.


Evan Kirk

The 2016 goaltender of the year will have one of the best defensive corps in the league in front of him, as he joins the Saskatchewan Rush after facing far too much rubber behind a New England defense that finished last season ranked eighth among the nine teams. The Rush can regain the Champion’s Cup if Kirk can repeat his starring role last summer in the Peterborough Lakers’ march to the Canadian Mann Cup championship.


Zach Currier

This is one of the most difficult categories to assess given the lack of pro history for any of the candidates. The preceding draft’s No. 1 pick has only been rookie of the year three times in the last 10 years, so don’t assume the 2017 No. 1 pick by Buffalo, Josh Byrne, will have a clear path the hardware. Last year’s winner, Tom Schreiber of the Rock, was never drafted. Stephan Leblanc of the Rock won it in 2010 after being the 11th player drafted. All that said, I like the chances of No. 3 pick and Calgary rookie Zach Currier picking up this trophy. He can change the pace of a game with his super-fast transient breakouts, as he proved in an important role in the Lakers’ September run. Four No. 3 picks have emerged as the top rookie. Currier could be the fifth in 11 years.


Mark Matthews

The Saskatchewan Rush lefty is the only player to be an MVP finalist in each of the last three years. He’s yet to win it. If the Rush have the super season of which they are entirely capable, it will be time to recognize the consistent greatness of a player who is the epitome of the team-first approach.


Tom Schreiber

This slippery right-hander darted around opposition zones to score 33 goals and amass 94 points for Toronto and was named rookie of the year in a landslide vote. He played all 18 regular-season Rock games, yet, even though he was chased and checked by menacing defensemen, he spent zero minutes in penalty boxes last season. Surprisingly, he was not a finalist in this category. He should be this season, unless an uncharacteristic mean streak rears its ugly head.



Derek Keenan

The Rush have finished first in the NLL West in each of the last four seasons and they are about to make it five in a row. Shrewd drafts trades have created a team that is so consistently good that Derek Keenan has to be in the running for this award every spring. Keenan has already won it three times and, if Saskatchewan improves on its 12-6 record, he’ll be deserving of a fourth.


Matt Sawyer

If Toronto improves as much in 2018 as it did in 2017 in Sawyer’s first year as head coach, he’ll be in front of the line for this award in only his second year in the league.