The NLL playoff battle is starting to heat up with only seven weeks left in the regular season. This weekend, teams at the top of the standings can start clinching one of the eight available playoff spots. However, another battle is also ongoing, albeit indirectly: the battle for the #1 pick in next year’s NLL Entry Draft (alternately, the Dyson Williams Sweepstakes).
It goes without saying that finishing last is not a position any team wishes for, nor actively strives to attain. It’s also obvious that having the top pick in the draft is a way for both a struggling team and its fanbase to re-ignite hope for better success in the following season. When it comes to the NLL, being drafted #1 overall tends to hold even greater value than in other leagues.
How valuable is a #1 pick in the NLL?
Over the past 13 years, the first overall pick has represented everything from franchise cornerstones (Cody Jamieson ’10, Kevin Crowley ’11, Mark Matthews ’12) to potential future MVPs (Josh Byrne ’17, Jonathan Donville ’21) to generational talents (Lyle Thompson ’15, Ryan Keenan ’16, Austin Staats ’18, Jeff Teat ’20). The 2023 Draft will likely add another generational talent to that list of #1 picks. Dyson Williams, son of NLL Hall-of-Famer Shawn Williams, appears to be the consensus #1 pick in most lacrosse circles.
Dyson is currently finishing his collegiate career at Duke University. But he has already had a small taste of what is to come professionally. The lefty forward appeared in 12 regular season games for Brooklin in Ontario’s Major Series Lacrosse this past summer. He tallied 45 points during that campaign, then amassed 19 points in 5 playoff games against the eventual Mann Cup champion Peterborough Lakers.
Which teams could end up selecting Dyson Williams?
Entering Week 16, four NLL teams currently have three or fewer wins. I took a look at those teams’ remaining schedules, as some have an easier slate than others. I also considered other factors that may affect their standing for next year’s draft. Based on that, I assigned a probability of each team ending up with the #1 pick.
NEW YORK RIPTIDE (3-9) – Probability: 10%
Remaining games: Albany, Georgia, at Georgia, at Buffalo, at Halifax, at Vancouver
The Riptide had the second most difficult strength of schedule this season, but have played their hardest stretch already. Their next three games are against two of the other teams in this sweepstakes. With Halifax, Saskatchewan and Colorado reeling in the past few weeks, New York still has an outside shot at getting the Wild Card spot from 5th place in the East Division. Based on that, I feel they are the team least likely to end up with the #1 pick.
VANCOUVER WARRIORS (3-9) – Probability: 20%
Remaining games: San Diego, Colorado, at Saskatchewan, at Colorado, Panther City, New York
The Warriors have markedly improved since signing Aaron Bold and acquiring Steph Charbonneau in the Mitch Jones trade. But unlike New York, most of their remaining games are division opponents who are both ahead of them, and also looking to right their ships in time for the postseason. Oddly enough, if both Vancouver and New York trend downward over the next month, their matchup in Week 22 could very well decide who gets the chance to select Dyson Williams.
GEORGIA SWARM (2-8) – Probability: 30%
Remaining games: at Philadelphia, at New York, New York, at Halifax, Saskatchewan, at Albany, at Rochester, Halifax
This is the most intriguing choice to me, for several reasons. First, the Swarm have one or two games in hand on each of the other three teams listed here. Second, they’re the only team on this list that still has a doubleheader weekend in their remaining schedule. Third, former MVP Shayne Jackson has frequently been mentioned as someone who could be traded before the March 20 deadline. If Jackson departs, Dyson Williams could certainly step in and make an impact on the left side next year. The presence of Williams may also reinvigorate his Brooklin teammate Ryan Lanchbury, who was a #2 overall pick of the Swarm two years ago but has struggled to fit into the offense, while also dealing with injury in his rookie season.
ALBANY FIREWOLVES (2-9) – Probability: 40%
Remaining games: at New York, Toronto, at Panther City, at Rochester, Georgia, Philadelphia, Buffalo
Let’s be blunt here: this is by far the most brutal of the four schedules listed. Three games against the top three teams in the East. Games against Philadelphia and Panther City, neither of whom will be an easy out should they make the postseason. Lastly, games against New York and Georgia, both of whom Albany is 0-2 against this year. More than half of their remaining games are at home; however, they are winless at home this season (0-5). Greg Downing was traded to Toronto this week, seemingly an indicator that the FireWolves are already looking to 2023. Ultimately, it could be the game against Georgia that determines who gets to select Dyson Williams #1 at the 2023 Entry Draft.
“Muffler” Mike Kostiuk was formally introduced to box lacrosse when he attended a New England Black Wolves game on a whim in 2016. Instantly hooked, he has since become an avid follower of the National Lacrosse League. Following the postponement of the 2019-2020 NLL season, he was offered the chance to share his wealth of statistical knowledge and unique insights with the lacrosse community at large. He cheerfully accepted, and currently serves as Edge of Philly’s correspondent for both the Albany FireWolves and New York Riptide.