NLL Preview: Steady Black Wolves Looking to Reach Another Level

PHOTO BY BILL WIPPERT

Callum Crawford is a key piece to the Black Wolves' 2019-20 season.


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 New England Black Wolves.

New England Black Wolves

Head coach: Glenn Clark (fifth season)
2018-19 record: 9-9 (fourth in Eastern Division)
Playoff finish: Lost in East semifinals

Overview

The New England Black Wolves have been a steady franchise since moving up to Uncasville in 2015.

They’ve made the playoffs in every year but their first in Connecticut. Still, there’s another level the franchise has yet to reach. New England has been eliminated in the divisional semifinals three years in a row, most recently in a one-sided 13-6 loss to Buffalo.

The offseason didn’t bring a swing-for-the-fences trade or signing, but the Black Wolves added some valuable pieces through those channels and a potential building block in the draft.

What’s new

The Black Wolves benefited from the biggest surprise of the NLL Draft, as New York opted to pass on Andrew Kew, the expected No. 1 pick. He fell to New England at No. 3, giving the team a coveted lefty threat to build around.

Kew should be ready to step right in after leading the Oakville Rock in goals and tying for the team lead in assists in Major Series Lacrosse this summer.

New England was also able to pry Jordan Durston away from New York after the Riptide selected him in the first round of the expansion draft. The added potential difference-makers in Joel Tinney and Tony Malcom, too.

What’s gone

Tyler Digby had quite the bounce-back season in 2018-19, jumping from 22 points in his final year in Calgary to 72 in his first year in New England. Unfortunately for the Black Wolves, that made him appealing to the Riptide, who selected him in the ninth round of the expansion draft. New York also snagged goalie Alex Buque, who was unlikely to play much anyway with Doug Jamieson taking over starting duties.

The team parted ways with Kevin Buchanan, who played in just four games last year but had been with the franchise dating back to its days in Philadelphia. New England traded Andrew Suitor to the Riptide on Nov. 19 for a conditional fourth round pick. Greg Downing is on the physically unable to perform list.







What’s the same

New England returns five of its top six scorers, with Digby representing the only loss. Joe Resetarits, who set the American single-season scoring record two years ago, is set to play his first full season with the team after being acquired midseason last year. Dereck Downs was seventh among rookies in scoring in 2018-19.

The back end is led by captain Brett Manney and features a handful of other familiar faces.

What could they use

New England needs leading scorer Callum Crawford to stay on the floor, and that means no more funny business. He was originally suspended for six games last season after a high hit on Toronto’s Bradley Kri. While that was scaled back to two games, it was still costly considering the Pack lost both outings without him.

Biggest question

How well will the offense mesh, and how is the pecking order structured? There aren’t enough spots on the floor for all the front door players who, on paper, could get time. Some may need to move to another position or embrace a smaller role on offense.

MVP Watch

Callum Crawford

My personal pick to win the MVP, Crawford was on pace to lead the league in scoring before the suspension. His 6.83 points per game was first in the league and he was on pace for one of the best seasons in league history, statistically speaking, if he kept up the production. His biggest enemy last year may have been himself. His biggest enemy going forward is Father Time, since the 35-year-old is entering his 15th season.

Verdict

Georgia will be tough to beat, but with an expansion team and second-year team in the division, the Black Wolves seem like a safe bet to return to the playoffs for a fifth straight season.

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