NLL Preview: Saskatchewan Rush

The Saskatchewan Rush won the 2018 NLL Cup. (Photo courtesy of the NLL)

What does a franchise do to top winning its third championship in four years? That’s the question for the Saskatchewan Rush going into this season.

General Manager/Head Coach Derek Keenan has continued to make moves designed to keep the Rush at the top of the standings for this year and beyond.

Offseason recap

Keenan has always been a defence-first guy and the offseason moves made by the Rush continued to showcase his strong emphasis on that part of the game. With defensive stalwarts Jeff Cornwall and Ryan Dilks both out of the equation for the upcoming season due to work commitments, it was that much more important to ensure the defensive unit get extra attention.

Following the expansion draft on July 16, where the San Diego Seals grabbed Brett Mydske, the Rush got him right back in exchange for four draft picks. This helped to solidify the veterans on the back end, while leaving room for any hungry young talent the team could find in the entry draft in September.

Saskatchewan wound up making just five picks in the entry draft, with four of those players making the roster:

  • 5th pick overall – Connor Robinson, High Point University
  • 37th pick overall – Ryan McLean, Calgary Mountaineers
  • 63rd pick overall – Dalton Lupul, Wheeling Jesuit University
  • 67th pick overall – Tyler Gaulton, Limestone College
  • 74th pick overall – Zach Gould, Saskatchewan Jr A

Lupul didn’t make the roster; Gould will start on the practice roster.

Still unsigned are forward Robert Church, and defenders Nic Bilic and Mike Messenger. With a few days still remaining before the Rush play their first game, the front office is no doubt working hard to sign Church, a runner-up for last season’s MVP award, and front-line defencemen Bilic and Messenger.

Mark Matthews. (Photo courtesy of the Saskatchewan Rush)

Active Roster

#2 Brett Mydske, Defense

#3 Conner Robinson, Forward

#4 Kyle Rubisch, Defense

#9 Curtis Knight, Forward

#15 Matt MacGrotty, Defense

#16 Chris Corbeil, Defense

#19 Jordi Jones-Smith, Transition

#20 Travis Cornwall, Transition

#25 Ryan Keenan, Forward

#27 Tyler Gaulton, Defense

#31 Adam Shute, Goalie

#32 Matthew Dinsdale, Forward

#35 Evan Kirk, Goalie

#39 Mason Pynn, Transition

#42 Mark Matthews, Forward

#61 Nick Finlay, Defense

#65 Ryan McLean, Defense

#74 Jeremy Thompson, Transition

#77 Jeff Shattler, Forward

#90 Ben McIntosh, Forward

#94 Matt Hossack, Defense

Practice Squad

Zach Gould, Defense


Season Outlook

Even without Church, Cornwall, Dilks, and Messenger, this is an elite team. The offense runs through defending league MVP Matthews (league-leading 116 points), who is one of only two players in NLL history to record more than 100 points in four straight seasons (the other being Shawn Evans). Church’s absence frees up floor time for McIntosh (46 goals, 34 assists), Keenan (26 G, 47 A), former MVP—and defending playoff MVP—Shattler (24 G, 36 A), as well as Knight (15 G, 29 A) AND Dinsdale (23 G, 22A). And that’s before rookie Robinson gets his share of the minutes.

All in all, the team that led the league in goals for last year could easily so so again. And if Church does re-sign, that potential shoots even higher.

On the other end of the floor, Kirk returns as the starting goaltender. His 10.82 goals against average was second-best in the league last season and his .777 save percentage was fourth-best.

In front of Kirk is a defensive unit that has been shook up, but which still remains one of the best in the league. Rubisch might be the best defenceman in league history—no one else has won as many Defensive Player of the Year awards (four) and he’s still just 30 years old. Corbeil is the team captain and a fierce defender, as well as being dangerous in transition—he has averaged just shy of a point per game in his career. Add in Mydske, Hossack, MacGrotty and Finley, and you have a veteran unit that works well together, puts consistent pressure on the ball, and takes away passing lanes. Again, if Bilci and Messenger re-sign, this becomes a top-three defensive unit in the NLL; as it it, it’s no worse than top-five.

On transition, Jeremy Thompson is one of the better face-off men in the NLL and, like his brothers on the Georgia Swarm, is ridiculously fast. Newcomers Jones-Smith, Tavis Cornwall, and Pynn add depth to the transition game and should do a good job pushing the ball up the floor.

Will this season’s Rush give up a few more goals? Probably. But last season they had a plus-58 goal differential—even if they give up an extra goal per game they should still easily make the playoffs and challenge for yet another championship.

The Rush open the season on December 28 in New England, as they take on the Black Wolves. They then host the expansion San Diego Seals in their home opener on Jan 5.

Check out Saskatchewan’s full schedule here.