NLL Preview: Old name, new beginning for Knighthawks (2.0)

PHOTO COURTESY OF ROCHESTER KNIGHTHAWKS

Steve Fryer made 11 saves in a 14-14 preseason tie with the Toronto Rock.


The countdown to the NLL season is upon us, as the season kicks off Nov. 29. Check back to uslaxmagazine.com as we roll out our season preview — including Jack Goods’ predictions, team-by-team capsules and additional features. Next is a look at the Rochester Knighthawks.

Rochester Knighthawks

Head coach: Mike Hasen (first season)
2018-19 record: N/A
Playoff finish: N/A

Overview

Goodbye, Rochester Knighthawks. Hello ... Rochester Knighthawks?

The name and head coach are the same, but Rochester fans will watch a brand new franchise this season after former Knighthawks owner Curt Styres decided to take his franchise to Halifax. The Pegulas stepped in, meaning fans in the city won’t have to spend years hoping for a return to the league like their Philadelphia brethren did.

The records, championships, colors and — most notably for this season — roster moved on, meaning the Knighthawks are starting from scratch despite donning the name of one of the league’s most historic franchises. On paper, general manager Dan Carey has already built an impressive offense. Will it be enough to compete right away?

What’s new

It didn’t take Rochester long to establish a solid core on the offensive end, drafting Shawn Evans, Curtis Knight and Holden Cattoni to anchor the unit. Turner Evans and Dan Lintner are strong secondary options, too.

The defense has less depth when it comes to players that have been relied upon for heavy lifting in the NLL, but it does include Paul Dawson, Dylan Evans, Matthew Bennett, Zac Reid and Tyler Burton. In goal, Steve Fryer is the player with the most experience. He relieved Colorado starter Dillon Ward for about 200 minutes over the past two seasons.

What’s gone

Losing the roster Knighthawks 1.0 built was likely a lot easier for Rochester fans than they thought it would be a year prior. Rochester went 6-12 in 2019, finishing fifth in the East Division while failing to qualify for the playoffs for the third time in four years. It was a surprising turn of events considering how much potential the K-Hawks appeared to have a year prior when they earned a spot in the league’s championship series.







What’s the same

While his former roster moved on, head coach Mike Hasen stayed in Rochester to coach the new franchise. A three-time NLL champion as a head coach, he should be one of the team’s top assets as it looks to build a winner again at Blue Cross Arena.

Carey didn’t draft any players from the previous Rochester franchise in the expansion draft but did bring in a handful of familiar faces in the city, including Burton, Dawson, Frank Brown, Dylan Evans, Shawn Evans and Pat Saunders.

What could they use

If Ryland Rees can make a quick adjustment to the NLL, it will be a huge boost to the Knighthawks’ transition and defensive units. The No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, Rees has been considered one of the most NLL ready of the incoming prospects by multiple league experts.

Biggest question

Did the Wings give us a blueprint for what to expect from the Knighthawks? The similarities between the teams go beyond retaining the same of a prior franchise. At this point last season, discussion regarding Philadelphia was very similar — impressive offense, but some depth issues on defense and a goalie looking to become a starter in this league for the first time.

MVP Watch

Shawn Evans

Evans’ 94 points ranked seventh in the league, while his 66 assists ranked third. He’s recorded at least 83 points in every season since 2012 and saw an 11-point increase from 2018 to 2019 when he was able to spend the entire season in Buffalo. He was the top point producer made available in this year’s expansion draft.

Verdict

Playing in the same division as Buffalo and Toronto will make a trip to the playoffs difficult in Year 1, but as the Seals showed last year,  you never know.

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