The 2016 NLL season is now less than two months away ahead of the season opener on New Year’s Day to start the National Lacrosse League’s 30th anniversary year. Coinciding with the start of the preseason, Inside Lacrosse is continuing its annual countdown of the Top 50 NLL Players on IL Indoor. Find previews below and click the link for the full breakdown of each player ranked #41-45 on the exclusive list of the world’s best lacrosse players comprised by IL staff members Stephen Stamp, Bob Chavez and Marty O’Neill.
45) Joe Walters – Rochester Knighthawks
Joe Walters hasn’t won any scoring titles or loose ball crowns and really, probably doesn’t expect to.
But that in no way puts less value on what he brings to a team. The athletic left-hander out of Rochester, N.Y., does a bit of this and a bit of that as a key contributor to a Rochester Knighthawks team that’s won 3 of the last 4 National Lacrosse League titles. It’s a role that often goes underappreciated, at least by those outside of the Rochester room.
But in that room, the Knighthawks know exactly what they have in Walters who uses his impeccable footwork to contribute anywhere he finds himself on the floor, then uses that footwork with incredible speed to get the ball wherever it needs to be. On the surface, skills like that are not uncommon in the NLL or even lacrosse. The bonus for Rochester and any team Walters plays for is the IQ because he’s not just a placeholder or decoy. He knows what to do with the ball and more often than not, he does the right thing.
Last year’s run with the Knighthawks resulted in a career-best 53 points, bolstered by career highs in goals (17) and assists (33). And even though the Knighthawks’ run of 3 straight NLL titles didn’t reach No. 4, Walters continues to be an important part of the lacrosse machine for his hometown team…
“Walters has been improving and taking on a bigger role each year with the Knighthawks, culminating with his first 20-goal and 50-point season in 2015. His real star turn, though, came at the this year’s World Indoor Lacrosse Championship. He led all Blue Group players with 14 goals and 30 assists, giving him 9 more points than tournament MVP and next-leading Blue Group scorer Shawn Evans of Canada. Walters was scoring big goals with accurate outside shooting and joined Kevin Buchanan to give the US a consistently dangerous left side. Walters is passionate about the game and has put a lot of work in to become a legitimate box lacrosse player. There’s no question that he’s achieved that goal.” – Stephen Stamp
44) Kasey Beirnes – Toronto Rock
Talk with any goal-scoring machine in the world of box lacrosse and he’ll tell you about the importance of teammates who do the work to set up shots. And when the conversation shifts to those who work well without the ball, that conversation inevitably includes Kasey Beirnes.
The right-hander out of Elora, Ontario, has never really been the No. 1 scorer for the teams he’s been part of, but it’s easy to believe he could handle the role if it were handed to him. Instead, though, Beirnes has been content with his role in the offensive end and lest you think he sacrifices too much, think again.
Beirnes is not shy when it comes to offense or shooting the ball. Last winter with the National Lacrosse League’s Toronto Rock, he scored a career-best 35 goals to help lead the Rock to the NLL finals. It was second-most for a Toronto team that suffered some injuries to top guns like Rob Hellyer and Colin Doyle. So when the Rock needed goals, Beirnes responded.
He scored 3 goals in 7 regular-season games and only once was he held without a goal. In 5 NLL playoff games, he contributed 9 points (6-3). He proved himself especially dangerous on special teams, leading the Rock with 12 power-play goals…
“While it seems like Beirnes does it every year, 2015 was actually just the fourth time in his 13-season career in which the Rock forward hit the 30-goal plateau; he totalled a career-high 35. On those 35 goals, the ball may have spent less than a minute total in his stick. Beirnes is the master of the quick release, either setting up on the edge of the crease or — more often — cutting to an open spot at the exact right moment for a teammate to be able to hit him with a pass. He almost never needs the ball in his stick to be effective, although he can play with the ball when it will help his team. Beirnes works tirelessly, doing the little things that can go unnoticed but of which his teammates, coaches and opponents are definitely aware.” – Stephen Stamp
43) Jordan Hall – Rochester Knighthawks
It’s nice to be known for scoring goals. Or setting up goals. Or doing the necessary work in an area to be an important part of the offense. So what’s even nicer? How about excelling in all those roles?
That’s where we are with Jordan Hall, who not only does so many different things for a team on offense, he does them all very, very well. Hall’s ability to adapt to situations by recognizing matchups and situations is the direct result of his lacrosse IQ and when it comes right down to it, there aren’t many players out there who are better at it than Hall.
The left-hander out of Surrey, B.C., has battled through some injuries over the years, so the level of consistency he’s been able to maintain has been impressive. Last winter for Rochester in the National Lacrosse League, he was third on the team with 64 points. His 25 goals gave the Knighthawks another source of potency; the Birds had 7 players with 20 or more goals…
“Hall can do a little bit of everything for you. 2015 was his fourth season scoring 24 or more goals and his fifth with 64 or more points. The three years he didn’t reach that plateau, he was playing primarily a transition role and he still produced 39 goals and 113 points in those three seasons. Last year, playing forward again, Hall was third on the Knighthawks in scoring behind future Hall of Famers Cody Jamieson and Dan Dawson. He also had as many caused turnovers as any forward other than Adam Jones. He’s a quiet contributor with quick feet and slick hands.” – Stephen Stamp
42) Kevin Crowley – New England Black Wolves
Since being the No. 1 overall National Lacrosse League draft pick in 2011, much has been expected of Kevin Crowley. And if for some reason you want to argue that the 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander out of New Westminster hasn’t lived up to the hype, expect some opposition. A lot of it, actually.
He’s scored 30 or more goals in each of his first 3 seasons and even though he scored just 25 last year, he did play 2 fewer games this season in addition to making a transition from New England to Toronto after he was traded. So it appears that no matter where and for whom Crowley is balling, he gets his job done as a finisher.
Crowley came to the Rock to provide a scoring punch after some injuries in Toronto, and he did not disappoint. He had 5 goals and 12 points to help the Rock reach the Champion’s Cup finals, where the Rock lost…
“His numbers appear deflated in 2015 because the way the schedule for the Black Wolves and Rock worked out, he played only 14 games last year with his mid-season trade from New England to Toronto. But Crowley actually posted the highest points-per-game average of his remarkably consistent career. Since being selected by Philadelphia with the first overall pick in the draft, Crowley has put up seasons of 36, 34, 33 and 25 goals, and 71, 72, 75 and 64 points. Had he played a full 18 games last year, he was on pace to score 32 goals and 82 points. Crowley may suffer some criticism because he plays a quiet game and always looks like he has the talent to produce even more than he does. There aren’t many teams, though, who wouldn’t be happy to have a regular 30+ goal and 70+ point scorer who can play pretty much any style of game you want him to.” – Stephen Stamp
41) Cory Vitarelli – Rochester Knighthawks
Cory Vitarelli didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but doesn’t that seem to be the case with his goals?
Just when Rochester Knighthawks fans think a Rochester shot is blocked or off the mark and is headed toward possession for the opponent, Vitarelli seems to pop out of thin air with the ball in his stick. And then, before you can make sense of how it got there, you find it in the back of the net and the big airhorn in the west end of the Rochester barn is annoying the snot out of opponents.
This is the method of Vitarelli, a left-handed forward out of Peterborough who doesn’t pile up the stats as much as he comes through with goals that more often than not turn the tide. He scored 25 goals for the Knighthawks last winter, giving him a fourth straight season of 23 or more goals.
So when it comes to a support role in scoring, it doesn’t get much more consistent than Vitarelli…
“If you like consistency in a support, role we again look to Rochester and another constant performance from No. 23. Cory’s basic contribution is 25 goals a year, 42 points and a .238 shooting percentage. Vitarelli is cagey crease guy with a knack for scoring timely goals. He has been a big contributor to past K-Hawk success and a return to glory will require he does his part. Vitarelli had injuries in 2015 and will need to address those moving forward.” – Marty O’Neill
Check back to follow the full Inside Lacrosse countdown of the NLL Top 50 Players on IL Indoor.