Offseason Recap: Edmonton Rush

The Edmonton Rush set an NLL record in 2014 by reeling of 14 consecutive wins en route to the best record in the league (16-2).  Having earned the best record in team history, the stage was set for the Rush to get back to the Champion’s Cup for the second time in three years and win their first title.
Unfortunately, it was not to be.
The Calgary Roughnecks ousted the Rush in the second round of the postseason, leaving what appeared to be the best team in lacrosse shy of their goal.
Incredibly enough, it looks like they might actually be better in 2015.
Schedule Analysis 
Edmonton’s schedule starts with a challenge when they face the Bandits in Buffalo on Jan 3. They follow it up the next weekend with their home opener against the Minnesota Swarm, who will likely have Edmonton’s former No. 2 goalie, Brodie MacDonald, between the pipes. Minnesota also had three of the first 10 picks in the draft for the third straight season—all the young talent they’ve been stockpiling is bound to pay off big sooner or later. After that the challenge level is up and down, with dates against the Calgary Roughnecks, the Colorado Mammoth and the New England Black Wolves.
The four games against cross-province rival Calgary are likely to be the biggest challenges of the season. Calgary eliminated Edmonton from the playoffs last season and historically has dominated the regular season series against the Rush. On the other hand, Edmonton won three of the four regular season games against Calgary in 2014.
Edmonton cut a deal with Minnesota in July that sent MacDonald and the third overall pick to the Swarm in exchange for Tyler Carlson, the first overall pick in the draft and a second round pick in 2015. Carlson has subsequently been signed to a two-year deal, so the Rush are clearly invested in him as Aaron Bold’s backup.
With the first pick in the draft, the Rush selected forward Ben McIntosh who should give a boost the Edmonton’s already strong offense. The return of Corey Small after a season away on injury will add even more depth to that equation.
The big loss of the offseason was trading MacDonald to the Swarm. In MacDonald, the Rush had arguably the best backup goalie in the NLL, but Carlson should prove to be a more-than-adequate replacement. The addition of rookie Adam Shute through the draft should also add depth at the goalie position.
Speaking of Shute, the second round pick was one of the more well-thought-of goalies in the draft and could project to be the goalie of the future for Edmonton, although it’s unlikely that he’ll see any floor time in 2015, unless Bold gets hurt.
McIntosh, whose brother Garrett plays for the Roughnecks, led Drexel in goals (48) and points (65) in his senior year. He played for the Maple Ridge Burrards the last two seasons, picking up 60 points in 21 games and gaining valuable experience playing alongside Rush teammates Riley Loewen and Jarrett Davis. As a result, his adjustment to playing for the Rush should be fairly smooth.
How They Got Better
For a team that is already among the league’s elite, it seems clear that they’ve improved significantly. McIntosh and Small will make the offense even better, a tall order for a team that scored the second-most goals in the NLL last year (220). With another year of experience under the belts of Mark Matthews, Robert Church and Curtis Knight, this team could wind up scoring virtually at will.
While they didn’t make any specific gains on the defensive side of the floor they have two of the three finalists for Defensive Player of the Year (Kyle Rubisch and Chris Corbeil), a finalist for Goaltender in the Year (Bold), arguably the third-best faceoff man in the NLL (Jeremy Thompson) and the rest of the squad are either right in their prime or still young enough to be improving. All that combines to make this a formidable unit that will make few mistakes.
How They Got Worse
You could make a case that Carlson replacing MacDonald is a trade down and, statistically, that may be right. But Carlson is a proven starter in the NLL with several hundred more minutes of practical experience so he might actually be better equipped to step in on nights when Bold isn’t feeling it.
What to Watch
Edmonton had an effective offense, a deadly transition game and a smothering defense last season. Look for them to be improved in all three of those game aspects for 2015.
An offensive unit of Matthews, Small, McIntosh, Church, Davis, Loewen and Zack Greer projects to be as balanced and dangerous as anyone in the NLL. Rubisch, Corbeil, Thompson, John Lafontaine, Brett Mydske and Jeff Cornwall might be the best defensive crew in league history and can turn the ball up the floor in a heartbeat. And with Bold between the pipes, even if there is a breakdown, they have an elite netminder to shut things down.
Frankly, it would not be unrealistic to see this team improve upon their 2014 record and take another shot at running the table on their way to the Champion’s Cup.