After finishing seventh in offensive rating and ninth in defensive rating, the Boston Cannons have had one of the most active offseasons in Major League Lacrosse. They signed All Star midfielder Kyle Denhoff. Legendary NCAA coach Dom Starsia and former MLL star Ben Rubeor joined to the coaching staff. And most recently, the Cannons sent Matt Landis to the New York Lizards in return for Ryan Walsh, Scott Firman and the fifth overall pick in the upcoming supplemental draft.
Entering his fourth season out of Colgate, Walsh is the most exciting piece of the deal for Boston. At his size (6-4, 235), he’s a matchup nightmare for undersized defenders. Look at some of his linemates – Justin Turri (6-3, 215), Cal Dearth (6-3, 215), Sergio Perkovic (6-4, 225), Luke Goldstock (6-3, 205) and Challen Rogers (6-4, 220) – this Cannons midfield makes the old Rochester “Big Boy Line” pale in comparison.
Walsh’s role with the Lizards was to be a downhill dodging spark plug. He has shot 31.7% in his career off the dodge; as a team, the Cannons shot 25.8% off the dodge last summer. Hero ball carries a negative connotation, but sometimes you need that player like Walsh who can pull his shot out of a hat as the shot clock dwindles.
Though he has primarily played midfield in the crowded Lizards offense, Walsh was a collegiate attackman. Short-stick him, and he’ll take you to his old stomping grounds behind the cage. Good luck driving him away from the island. He’ll back you down until he gets there, then wrap a nasty sidearm shot around you to increase his angle and screen the goalie.
Walsh’s ability to isolate is appealing – and proven. But what remains to be seen is how Walsh meshes six-on-six with the Cannons’ current pieces, primarily Kyle Jackson. Jackson (14G, 8A in 9 games) emerged onto the scene in 2017.
Jackson, an Ontario native and Michigan graduate, has a strong box lacrosse background. In his breakout season in Boston, he found himself isolating too often, shooting 4-for-20 (20.0%) in one-on-one dodging situations. Granted it is a small sample size, but he was much better creating his own shot in a two-man game, going 3-for-5 (60.0%).
Picking for him with another lefty helps balance the field; it keeps the sticks to the middle and, in turn, picker’s threat level remains high. Naturally, Jackson worked closely with Kevin Buchanan and Will Manny. After Manny was traded to New York midseason, Jackson was in need of another pick-and-roll partner. The Cannons pulled the right-handed Scott Bieda across the field at times. Now, they can pick with (or use Jackson to pick for) Ryan Walsh.
Jackson has been used as a picker in the NLL for his Rochester Knighthawks’ teammates Eric Fannell and Cody Jamieson. He has shot 2-for-3 (66.7%) as the roll man indoors this season. Putting Jackson in more of the two-man games that he’s comfortable with from box lacrosse, rather than the isolations he was running last season, should help everyone on this Cannons offense.
Will Walsh elevate Jackson in the two-man game? The Cannons are likely to add another left-handed attackman if they use the first overall pick. Connor Fields (Albany) and Ben Reeves (Yale) are the top prospects right now. How does Walsh mesh with the rookie? Does he have two-point range? He hasn’t attempted a single shot beyond the arc in his MLL career, but the Cannons give the green light to anyone with range. They attempted a league-high 5.5 two-pointers per game last season. Three years into his career, there’s still a lot for us to learn about Ryan Walsh.
There are some intriguing pieces in this Cannons’ offense. Dearth and Goldstock showed flashes down the stretch. A healthy Perkovic is one of the scariest shooters on the planet. Denhoff is a nice addition, and a known commodity. Walsh is the wild card. Depending on how he is used, he could be a 25+ goal scorer. New York Lizards head coach Joe Spallina has spoken highly of Walsh ever since he entered the league. Let’s see what he does with his shot in Boston.