By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The National Lacrosse League staged its annual draft on Tuesday night in Philadelphia. It was a crucial session for the Buffalo Bandits and their general manager Steve Dietrich.
As you may have noticed, the Bandits have missed the playoffs for the past two seasons. That’s unacceptable for a fan base that is rather spoiled, and deservedly so. Buffalo has been one of the league leaders in attendance for many years, and the Bandits play in a market that is close to the indoor lacrosse incubator of Southern Ontario. They should be consistently good, year after year. The Bandits needed to get this night right.
The Bandits’ reward for a poor season as well as a great trade with Vancouver came on Tuesday, when it had the third and fourth picks in the first round. The proceedings went as expected in the early going. San Diego took Austin Staats, considered the best offensive player to come along in some time, with the first pick. Philadelphia followed with another scorer, Chris Cloutier.
That left the Bandits with their choice of the top two players available who were defenders. Those two were identified beforehand as Matt Gilray of Peterborough and Ian MacKay of Six Nations, and the Bandits followed conventional wisdom by picking them.
By the way, Connor Fields – who was a standout at Bishop Timon/St. Jude High School and at the University at Albany – went 10th in the first round to San Diego. He had knee surgery on August 1, so we’ll have to say how soon he’ll be ready to play. Connor Kearnan, who played at Canisius College, went 11th to San Diego.
The early picks in the first round are usually the time when teams go after offensive players, because they are harder to find than defenders. However, the Bandits found themselves rather loaded up front entering the 2018-19 season. Dhane Smith, Shawn Evans, Mitch Jones, Josh Byrne and Jordan Dunston are back, and that’s an awfully good starting five on offense.
According to lacrosse writer Stephen Stamp, the best in the business in such matters, Gilray has the speed and the hands to be a superb defender. About the only drawback to his status is that he is an assistant coach at Whitter College in California, so he will have to do some serious commuting to attend games. Buffalo traditionally has preferred its players to live close to here in order to have them attend midweek practices, so we’ll see how this works out from here.
MacKay is known to the Bandits’ co-coaches, Rich Kilgour and John Tavares, since he played for them at Six Nations over the summer. It looked as if MacKay had made a full recovery from some lower-body injuries suffered in previous seasons. He’s another fast one who should be dangerous in transition play this winter.
The Bandits only had one other scheduled pick on the night, a fourth-rounder. They used it to take goalie Devlin Shanahan, who played for Mimico in an Ontario junior league for the past three years. Shanahan also has played some left wing in hockey in recent years. He’s the son of lacrosse broadcast analyst Brian Shanahan.
We’ll get to see how these picks work out for the Bandits, starting with the beginning of the regular season in December. If they don’t produce the desired results, we’ll wait to see who will be conducting the Bandits’ draft at this time next season.
Pro sports is indeed an unforgiving business.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB.)