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PLL Draft Big Board, 2.0

A few important 2024 milestones have been reached. We’re approaching, or in some cases into, conference play in the college lacrosse world. We also now have an official draft date; the Premier Lacrosse League 2024 draft will be held on May 7th, and will be broadcast on ESPNU and ESPN+. 


With those points reached, it’s time for an update to the Sticks In PLL Big Board. Way back in November we posted our first edition. As the name suggests, it was quite big. Now with games played, we have reduced the list a bit, and shuffled around the prospect rankings based on how player stock is impacted by their play so far. 


Our usual reminder of how this works:


This is NOT a mock draft. I don’t expect players to be drafted in this order and if they are, it would shock me. This is just my personal ranking, both overall and by position, of what I consider the top PLL prospects. These are the guys I think have shown they can play at the next level, ranked based on how likely I believe it is that they have success. I’ve been right before and wrong before, that won’t change. We’ve had back to back years of Sam Handley and Chris Gray staying at the top of the board basically the entire year before not going first overall. This isn’t a prediction, it’s just a list. 


We are just about done with all the COVID years and all that jazz. There will always be transfers and grad years, the portal is what it is, but hopefully we are much more easily able to say this is year five, that’s it, for players. Maybe year six. Maybe we hit football territory and get to year eight. A guy can dream. Either way, I try to be as consistent as I can from year to year. My approach is simple. The PLL says current college seniors and grad students can declare and be drafted. While some of the seniors can still decide to return to school, being seniors makes them draft eligible and worthy of consideration. Once I hear otherwise about a player (returning to school, not declaring, whatever the case may be), I take them off the rankings and move them to “Notable Unavailable Players” section. Players have forgone eligibility before. Brett Dobson went pro with a year of eligibility left, as did Grant Ament before him, although many are finding ways to maximize their college years. Matt Brandau, for example, is one of a few Yale players who withdrew from Yale for the fall to preserve two spring semesters of eligibility, so he is able to get an extra “year” in the Ivy that way. In quite a few cases, if a player is known to have eligibility remaining, I put them in the Players to Watch section and not in the top five in their position group.


I watch a lot of lacrosse. Maybe too much. But the college lacrosse world is an enormous place. An awful lot can happen between today and draft day. One of the best parts of doing this is that players prove to be risers and fallers on the board as the season goes on. I absolutely love getting this stuff wrong and looking back at it later. This isn’t the final be all and end all list, it’s a work in progress and that progress rolls from now until draft day. If you read this and think “Dan is clueless, he still has that guy too high/too low on the list” or “Dan is clueless and doesn’t have this guy on the list” you can let me know which of those “Dan is clueless” situations apply via the Sticks In mailbag or on social media. 


Without further ado, the 2024 Big Board, 2.0:


OVERALL


  1. Brennan O’Neill, Attack, Duke

  2. Connor Shellenberger, Attack, UVA

  3. Pat Kavanagh, Attack, Notre Dame

  4. Jake Stevens, Midfield, Princeton/Syracuse

  5. Liam Entenmann, Goalie, Notre Dame

  6. Dyson Williams, Attack, Duke

  7. TJ Malone, Attack, Penn State

  8. Matt Brandau, Attack, Yale

  9. Graham Bundy, Midfield, Georgetown

  10. Eric Dobson, Midfield, Notre Dame


The top 10 for me has shuffled a bit. The notable change is that Levi Anderson has dropped out, and TJ Malone has moved in, appearing all the way up at seven. Jake Stevens has climbed to four.


2023 was the year of the long pole. This year it’s all about the offensive firepower. The top of the board is going to get billing as one of the most stacked classes in history. I have called it the lacrosse version of the 2003 NBA Draft, and it will get that type of hype. You have Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh level prospects and depth at the top. 


Brennan O’Neill is a combination of strength, size, speed and skill that is exceedingly rare in lacrosse. If there was a college lacrosse video game and you made a create-a-player with all the sliders to max, what you’d get is Brennan O’Neill. He stands 6’2, and is now listed at a behemoth 250 lbs, and his skill and size are incredibly difficult to match up with. He’s been known to the lacrosse world since he committed to Penn State as an 8th grader, ultimately switching to Duke. He was the lone collegiate player on Team USA, won gold in San Diego, and was the title game MVP. For a player like O’Neill, in my opinion, you don’t even consider what else is on your roster. You take him and figure it out. He is worth building around. Even if you love your lefty attackman, O'Neill ran out of the box for Team USA. He has started every game of his career at attack on the left side at Duke. He’s already got a Tewaaraton, he’ll be in the mix for a second. There simply is nobody like him.


Connor Shellenberger will be discussed as a number one overall pick candidate and rightfully so. There are coaches of the opinion that Shellenberger is the better overall player. Shellenberger was the top overall recruit in his class, and redshirted his freshman year at UVA before it was canceled by COVID. In his time as a starter, which was every year since, he’s been a USILA First Team All American three times. All ACC three times, and a Tewaaraton Finalist twice (lost to O’Neill and Jared Bernhardt). He can play anywhere, do anything. Need a facilitator? He led DI in assists per game in 2023. He’s now the UVA all time assist leader, a special achievement given the program history. Scorer? He holds an NCAA tournament single game record with six goals, doing it twice, most recently against Georgetown. If his matchup is the one to attack, he wins it. If the weakness is somewhere else, he finds it and attacks it. He’ll understand your defense, identify a soft spot, and carve you up with lethal precision. He doesn’t have the same physical stature of O’Neill, but that’s hardly a knock given his body of work.


Pat Kavanagh is the toughest player in the group. Plays with the sharpest edge. Shellenberger and O’Neill might be slightly higher regarded as prospects, but Kavanagh is better at riding than they are. He’s better at ground balls. If you can be better at grit, he's better at grit. In three full seasons at Notre Dame, he’s been a Tewaaraton finalist twice, First Team All American twice (and 2nd team once). He already is the Notre Dame all time leader in assists; this year he’s just growing the gap. He set the single season record for assists at Notre Dame in each full season he’s had (set it in 2021, broke his own record in 2022, then did it again 2023). Kavanagh plays with a unique balance of aggression and intelligence. It’s unusual to describe someone’s style of play as “violent”, but Kavanagh plays violent. Sometimes that’s in the form of soaking checks and abuse on his way to the goal. Sometimes that’s an aggressive but precise pass through a defense to unlock a great look at goal. He’s incredibly difficult to match up with, because a bigger defender trying to be physical with him is playing into his strengths, but a quicker and smaller defender is going to struggle to match what Kavanagh brings physically. On talent and toughness alone, Kavanagh is a top three pick. On personality and off field star power potential, I think he’s the top of the list in the entire draft. 


That first trio will be the top of the board for just about everyone coming into the draft, but the drop off after them isn’t all that big. I may end up being higher on Jake Stevens than most, but I look at what midfielders are being asked to do in the PLL now, and I see a perfect fit in Stevens. A midfielder who only plays offense and can do just one or two things, or has to have the ball to be dangerous, is a dying breed. The PLL 19 man roster just doesn’t have enough spots for guys that specialized. You have to bring more to the table. Effective on both ends, efficient shooter, smart without the ball, if you can’t be impactful in all of those ways, you’ll get replaced by someone who can. Like Stevens. A two way midfielder with a box background, Stevens is a special combination of smart and gritty. Tough and precise. This year he’s doing everything at Cuse. He’s also had multiple 60 ground ball seasons. Nobody is Zach Currier, but if you’re looking for the guy who touches as many stat categories as Currier does, it’s Stevens.


Next, a goalie in the top ten. Uncharted territory as long as I’ve been making these as far as I can remember. Liam Entenmann’s performance in the national championship game was Tillman Johnson level legendary. He was stopping shots like Neo stopping bullets in The Matrix, and doing it on the biggest stage in lacrosse (at any level). The number one goalie coming out of high school, a safe bet to be the preseason 1st team All American, and the backstop of Notre Dame for four years, starting every game in his career. We’ve had as many PLL drafts (5) as goalies drafted at this point, so to see one taken early in the draft would be unusual. In 2022, three goalies were taken, the earliest was Brett Dobson in the middle of round two. In the last three years, Entenmann hasn’t had a season save percentage worse than 57%, and has never had a GAA of more than 10.5 By far the top goalie on the board.

 

Dyson Williams will head to Durham for his final year at Duke having started just about every game of his career there. 25 goals as a freshman, 60 last season, 151 for his career. Shooting 47% for his Duke career. All that said, and I mean this in the best way possible, you could make a case that Williams underproduced in his time at Duke. He’s been a secondary option or off ball threat for basically his entire career (he has 21 assists in four years). And he’ll get high praise for his skills as a lefty finisher. But make no mistake, Williams can be a dodger, he can distribute, he can do anything an offense needs. A natural lefty, he actually scored some right handed goals for Team Canada at World Championships as a dodger from X and running out of the box, something that has not happened much at all at Duke. Williams is already the #1 overall pick in the NLL draft. A team who can look beyond just his usage at Duke will see a truly special player. 


Joining the Top 10 is TJ Malone, the speedster from Penn State. As of this writing, Malone is averaging over six points per game, with more assists than goals. He has committed six turnovers. For his level of usage, the way he takes care of the ball is underrated. As teams negotiate a 32 second shot clock post faceoff, someone who can play offense with speed while also taking care of the ball and creating a good shot is valuable. Malone is ready to win matchups with pro level poles already, he really was ready last summer. He has a knack for the moment; you could make a case he was the best offensive player at the Final Four last year. He is a plug and play weapon for any PLL offense. 


Matt Brandau brings versatility to the attack spot, able to play at X or on wings. He does his best work attacking from X and that’s been his role at Yale since he became the primary weapon there, but early in his career he was effective as a wing player too. He has two 50+ goal seasons at Yale. He’s at 259 career points, split between 154 goals and 105 assists. He’s been a first team All American, earning the honor in 2022 with a 99 point season. Brandau has already played on an attack line that shares the ball incredibly well. Last year he, Chris Lyons, and Leo Johnson each had 60+ points. Brandau and Lyons both were over 70. The trio led the team by a wide margin in scoring. Brandau plays well with others, you don’t need to worry about finding a way to make him fit with your stars and current pieces. Like Shellenberger, he’s malleable and can do whatever your offense needs at a pro level. 


The best natural offensive midfielder in the group, Graham Bundy somehow doesn’t get enough pub. Captain of the gold medal winning U-21 National Team. Multiple time first team All American. Unanimous Big East Midfielder of the Year. Unanimous first team All Big East twice. The St Louis native has started every game of his career, and in the last three full seasons, has never had less than 32 goals in a season. This year he’ll likely surpass players like Scott Urick and Andy Flick on the all time Hoya points list. With a 60+ point season, he’ll move all the way to 2nd all time in Hoya history, only behind Jake Carraway. Georgetown has been active in the portal in recent years, but Bundy remained steadily their best midfielder, an offensive leader and primary weapon. The team looking for this year’s Matt Campbell needs to take Graham Bundy.  


Rounding out the Top 10, another midfielder, Eric Dobson. He is going to draw Sergio Perkovic comparisons just because of their stature and playstyle, and that they both went to Notre Dame. At 6’5, 235 lbs, Dobson is the biggest midfielder available and an absolute freight train of a dodger with a hammer of a righty shot. He’ll be a day one two point threat in the PLL. His shooting has also improved every year in college. As a freshman starter, he shot 20%. Last year, he took 30 more shots than he did as a freshman but shot just under 33%. That percentage and that volume from the midfield is pro ready. His shooting percentage is down a bit through four games this year, but at this point, his track record and production are probably enough for coaches to trust him. Dobson is also an interesting barometer for what pro coaches may be looking for. With all his physical tools and ability, Dobson is still primarily an offensive weapon, and hasn’t played a ton of two way lacrosse for the Irish. The pro game can be won and lost in transition, with effective subbing and play from one end to the other. If Dobson is a factor on both ends this spring, his stock skyrockets.


NOTABLE UNAVAILABLE PLAYERS:


CJ Kirst (Listed as a ‘25 by Cornell)

Cole Kastner (Expected to take a grad year for Basketball)

Sam English (Has two years of eligibility post transfer to Syracuse)

Jake Taylor (Returning to Notre Dame in 2025)


ATTACK:


  1. Brennan O’Neill, Duke

  2. Connor Shellenberger, Virginia

  3. Pat Kavanagh, Notre Dame

  4. Dyson Williams, Duke

  5. TJ Malone, Penn State


Players to Watch: Levi Anderson, Matt Brandau, Ross Scott, Josh Zawada, Payton Cormier, Mike Robinson, Garrett Degnon, JJ Sillstrop, Michael Long, Christian Mule, Vince D’Alto, Jack Boyden, Toron Eccelston, Dylan Pallonetti


Holy weapons. As noted above, last year was the year of the defender. 2024 has enough offensive talent in it that it feels safe to say this year’s Ethan Rall, an undrafted player who is picked up post draft and dominates, could come from the above group. All of the top five was covered above. From the rest of the group, a few names stand out. First is Levi Anderson, the St Joseph’s versatile weapon and highly rated indoor prospect too. Anderson’s tools, both athletically and in terms of lacrosse skills, are undeniable. But his level of dominance in games isn’t always commensurate with those tools. For that reason, I could see team’s being a bit down on him right now, though he can play his way back up this list. I firmly believe he has first round talent. He is pass first player who doesn’t mind playing the leverage game, and he sees the field extremely well. Ross Scott is one of the better change of direction dodgers in the class, and was one of the best dodgers on the field for Team Canada at the Fall Classic. Scott does his best work at X, but if he shows the ability to dodge and create from other spots on the field, his stock does way up. Zawada is actually Duke’s leading scorer as of this writing (yes, ahead of O’Neill). The Michigan scoring records are basically all his. He leads Duke in assists, and is shooting over 50%.. The Canadian is playing his way up the draft board more every week. Cormier is a plug and play lefty shooter and finisher. He’s been piling up the goals since he stepped on campus at UVA. He might have the best hands in the draft. Mike Robinson is a similar skill set. Degnon is another shooter and finisher who has two point range at the pro level. JJ Sillstrop is having an excellent year, kicked off by his heroics week one in an OT win against Hopkins. He currently leads Denver in scoring, and while he like some others in this draft does his best work at X, his game translates to being able to run out of the box at the pro level too. 


MIDFIELD, TUCKER DORDEVIC DIVISION


  1. Graham Bundy, Georgetown

  2. Eric Dobson, Notre Dame

  3. Reese Burek, Army

  4. Noah Armitage, Stony Brook

  5. Scott Cole, Lehigh


Players to watch: Alex Vardaro, Dalton Young, Adam Poitras, Brock Haley, Hugh Kelleher, Thomas Greenblatt, Christian Ronda, Shane Knobloch, Andrew Cook


This group is offense first options, purely on the field to put the ball in the net. They’ll have the athleticism to play on both ends but you’d rather sub them off for a defensive midfielder when possible. Graham Bundy and Eric Dobson were covered above, so let’s look at the rest of the midfield. Reese Burek is one of the top weapons at Army. He can win off the dodge from multiple spots on the field, and is a smart, fundamentally sound lacrosse player. Army finds the spot where your defense is weak, and sends Burek there to exploit the weakness. He can do this out of invert, from wings both high and low, or coming down hill on alley dodges. Noah Armitage is the fit for teams who like to add big midfielders with indoor skills (you know who I mean). At 6’4, 210 lbs and already an NLL draft pick, Armitage is just too much for many short stick defenders to handle one on one. He’s scored 13 goals this season so far, and has committed just four turnovers. Scott Cole was the Offensive Player of the Year in the Patriot League a year ago, he racked up five points per game which was top five in the country. Cole has played both attack and midfield for Lehigh, this year he’s averaging a hat trick on 41.9% shooting. He has had some ugly turnover games which is something of a concern, and has just one assist on the year so far. Vardaro got out to a bit of a slow start with Georgetown in his grad year campaign, but has come on more lately in terms of production. He has not had a good shooting year, and in the past he’s been excellent at understanding how to separate and find space off the ball to shoot. In terms of IQ and understanding what the defense is doing, he’s very good, he just needs his stats to match to move up the list. Haley is a Canadian who moves seamlessly between attack and midfield. He spent two years as a first line midfielder and another starting at attack for UVM. As with other midfielders on the pro radar, he has both position and skill set versatility. Hugh Kelleher and Shane Knobloch have eligibility remaining if they want to use it, so for now they are in the player to watch list. But make no mistake, both of them project as PLL draft picks this year. Knobloch is maybe the best pure dodger in the group, and Kelleher has all the physical tools that Dobson has. Keep an eye on Christopher Newport’s Andrew Cook. He’s almost certainly the best midfielder in DIII, and at 6’2, 205 lbs has a pro ready frame. He’s an excellent shooter and dodger, and can be dangerous without the ball. If he doesn’t get drafted, I expect a camp invite for him. 


MIDFIELD, LATRELL HARRIS DIVISION


  1. Jake Stevens, Princeton

  2. Beau Pederson, Princeton/Michigan

  3. Patrick Hackler, Yale

  4. Grant Haus, Penn State

  5. Chase Yager, Harvard/UVA


Players to Watch: Jake Titus, Chase Yager, Tucker Garrity


This group is more two way options or pure short stick defenders. Stevens we covered in the opener with the Top 10 overall. If you are looking for a pure SSDM, Beau Pederson is the pick of the class. 6’3, 205 lbs, the Park City native has been a force for Princeton. Originally recruited as an offensive midfielder, and playing that spot as a freshman, he moved to the other side of the ball and was immediately an impact player. He is this year’s Piper Bond. Defenses can trust him to cover on day one, and he has the skills to start transition and play wings. It’s a skill set that has become very highly valued in the PLL. With that same skill set is Patrick Hackler. Last year, Hackler took wings, was a top SSDM, and was part of clearing and riding for Yale. He’d stay on the play offense. This year, he’s become a first line offensive midfielder, but also still does all those other things. He is the swiss army knife in the draft, and the word is he will be available and not seek an extra year of college ball. Grant Haus, yes, is the same Haus. If you want to know what you’re getting from Grant, you can turn on the tape of his brothers. Coaches will love his game, his work ethic, and they’ll assuredly feel comfortable taking him. A solid, safe pick at the position. Chase Yager is put a gem of a game on tape against Towson, recording four CTs and notching an assist. The grad transfer has a knack for winning the ball back, he looks like the kind of shorty who wants to get dodged on. Top tier on ball defenders at the short stick position can change the way you play defense. Yager spending time in Gerry Byrne defenses, and now with a grad year at UVA, should have him pro ready. 


DEFENSE/LSM


  1. Kenny Brower, Duke

  2. Jake Piseno, Albany

  3. Mason Woodward, Marquette

  4. Ajax Zappitello, Maryland

  5. Roy Meyer, Boston U


Players to Watch: Pat Morrison, Jackson Bonitz, Mitchell Dunham, Tyler Carpenter, AJ Mercurio, Michael Grace, Scott Smith, Jack DiBenedetto


It won’t get the same hype as last year’s class, but this is hardly a weak position group. How this unit gets drafted will depend entirely on what the team drafting is looking to get. My rankings might look a little different than what you think, because you’re looking at different needs. If a team is after a fundamentally sound cover defender, who won’t wow you with stats but you can trust to make correct plays consistently, they’ll take Brower. He’s been a mainstay on the Duke defense, as a number one even, for multiple seasons. Mason Woodward is the same type of player, and has a bigger physical presence than Brower. Woodward is 6’2, 210 lbs, and as solid fundamentally as it gets. There aren’t many defenders in the draft with better footwork and angle play than Woodward. Zappitello is the third of that group of players you can just trust down low to win a matchup. His bouts with Connor Shellenberger are well documented, with Zappitello winning that matchup in some instances. If you consider Shellenberger to be #1 pick worthy, you must consider this guy who can guard him to be an early round pick too. Pat Morrison is a player to watch at the close defender spot.  He has already locked up some players on this list who will be drafted, and while he BU top defender won’t wow you with stats, on ball, he’s one of the best around. If teams’ are looking for a between the lines terror or natural LSM, Piseno and Meyer are the guys. Piseno’s star has been rising since his summer at World Championships. As of this writing, five games into Albany’s season, he has five points, eight shots, 20 GBs, and 18 CTs. He will get you the ball from the other team and create offense. It’s what he’s built for. Roy Meyer is the same type of player, although I consider Piseno to be a bit more athletic. Meyer has been a 1st team All American, and will basically own the BU record book for ground balls and CTs when he’s done. Mitchell Dunham is player a like a lot at LSM too, who could be late round surprise. Dunham is the LSM at Mount St Mary’s, he’s played for Team Canada already. At 6’5, 215 lbs, he’s a ground ball hoover, and can play both down low and bumped up to midfield. Ton of upside for him. 


GOALIE


  1. Liam Entenmann, Notre Dame,

  2. Logan McNaney, Maryland

  3. Matt Knote, UMass


Players to watch: Chayse Ierlan, Will Mark


Liam Entenmann enters the year as the clear #1. McNaney is very athletic, and comfortable outside the cage. He’s already got a ring and a NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player award to his name. He missed last year with a knee injury but if he returns to his form from 2022, but has been very good since returning. He has played behind some outstanding defenses at Maryland who help him see what he wants to see. Matt Knote will remind fans of another UMass great netminder, Sean Sconone. Knote has a career save percentage of .551, and is routinely among the best in the nation at the position. Like Sconone, he has a big body, and plays angles well to limit how much net shooters can see. His footwork is calm and precise, he doesn’t bounce around or waste motion in net. 


FACEOFF


  1. Jake Naso, Duke

  2. Tommy Burke, Ohio State/UVM

  3. Luke Wierman, Maryland


Players to watch: Alec Stathakis, Mason Kohn


Faceoff rankings move a good amount from our first edition. Part of that is because the rules changed again. The PLL now has banned long poles from taking faceoffs, which is a serious blow to the prevent strategy that the Waterdogs and Cannons ran last year. The Waterdogs still have the personnel to do it because they have Zach Currier, but the Cannons, the Outlaws, and other teams who used the prevent for some or all of last season will have to find an option. On draft day, there are a few who are a good fit. There are a few considerations to taking a faceoff man beyond just the actual draw. He has to be able to handle pressure, and he needs to be something of an offensive threat. A specialist who turns the ball over immediately after winning it, with the 32/52 shot clock rules, has done more harm than good. Naso is an extremely skilled specialist with the ball in his stick, who can win off the dodge if you ask him to. Burke and Wierman both also are excellent at handling pressure, while also pressuring a defense on draws they forward. Kohn could be a big mover given how much success he has had with Syracuse this year. He might be the best pure athlete in the group. 


1 Comment


Is Saam Olexo going back to cuse or is he just not on the list

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