NLL Preview: Vancouver Warriors Have New Players to Spark Winning Culture

PHOTO BY JACK DEMPSEY

Captain Matt Beers leads the Vancouver defense.


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 Vancouver Warriors.

Vancouver Warriors

Head coach: Chris Gill (second season)
2018-19 record: 5-13 (fifth in West Division)
Playoff finish: Did not qualify

Overview

There was an understanding that the ownership group of the NHL's Vancouver Canucks was inheriting a project when it acquired the NLL’s Vancouver franchise and rebranded it as the Warriors last offseason.

Vancouver was coming off a 2-16 season and had few assets to restock the cupboard, especially when in terms of the NLL Draft. New management tinkered with the roster last offseason, but there was only so much that could be done, especially considering the labor strike. Vancouver went 5-13, again finishing last in the West.

The franchise was without a first-round pick again (this year’s helped the then-Stealth acquire Corey Small back in 2015), but did add a handful of useful veterans and some players looking to break into the league in hopes of getting closer to the playoffs.

What’s new

The Warriors brought in two notable players who have been a part of winning cultures in the West Division, forward Riley Loewen and defenseman Nik Bilic. Loewen was tied for fourth in points (46) on the NLL Cup champion Roughnecks last year. Bilic has won three championships with the Rush.

Defenseman Chris O’Dougherty is back with the team after a year away. Bob Snider is looking to find a stable job in the league again.

Former NHL star and current color analyst and podcast host Paul 'BizNasty' Bissonnette is new, too (kind of).

What’s gone

Tony Malcom, traded for the draft pick that later netted Bilic, was fifth on the team in points last season. The Province’s Steve Ewen said the team’s trade for Mike Mallory from the Knighthawks pushed him down the depth chart for 2019-20, making him expendable in the team’s eyes. Mallory, 28, is expected to get his best look in the league yet after a strong summer.

Brandon Goodwin and Jean-Luc Chetner were taken in the expansion draft, but the Warriors were able to reacquire Goodwin through a trade. Chetner had 16 points in 11 games.







What’s the same

Mitch Jones, last year's leading scorer, returns for his second season in Vancouver. So do the rest of the team’s top four scorers, Keegan Bal, Logan Schuss and Jordan McBride. Bal and McBride were nice surprise stories last season, with the former notching 74 points in his first full NLL season and the latter making an impact in his first game action since 2014. Schuss, a franchise mainstay, got back to the 70s in points after dropping to 62 a year prior.

Captain Matt Beers sets the tone on the defensive end. He’s joined by fellow returnees Justin Salt, Tyler Codron and Ian Hawksbee.

What could they use

Vancouver needs one of its goalies to step up and take the starting job permanently this season. Aaron Bold has been a successful starter in the NLL but posted the second-worst goals against average of his career last season while going 2-6. Eric Penney had a better GAA and save percentage than Bold but still went 3-7.

Biggest question

Can this team score? Vancouver only mustered 179 goals last season, an average of less than 10 per game. Colorado was the only other team in the league even within striking distance, with third-from-last San Diego scoring 29 more times than the Warriors.

MVP Watch

Mitch Jones

Acquired from the Bandits prior to last season, Jones set career-highs with 48 assists and 83 points in his first year with the Warriors. While he’s been in the league since 2013, this will be only his fifth full season since he originally split time between hockey and lacrosse. His point output has increased every year he’s been in the league.

Verdict

The West is brutal, so the playoff odds remain dire for Vancouver. The stakes are high for the Warriors to improve, as we’ve seen time and time again in this league how difficult it is to build a fan base when the team isn’t winning.

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