The Maverik Most Improved Player of the Year award is a tough award to peg. There is so much turnover between teams each season and players’ roles can change week-to-week. However, the Most Improved Player is a significant award because it represents not only who made the jump this year, but who will be primed for another jump next season to be a team leader and a consistent starter for years to come. The three nominees for the Maverik Most Improved Player of the Year are: Mark Cockerton (Ohio Machine), Kyle Bernlohr (Ohio Machine) and Kylor Bellistri (Boston Cannons).

Mark Cockerton, A, Ohio Machine

Cockerton, a four-year pro out of University of Virginia, is in his second season as a member of the Machine. In 2016 he was flexing between the third and fourth attack spot behind the players like Steele Stanwick, Marcus Holman, and at the end of the season, John Grant Jr. With the retirement of both Stanwick and Grant Jr., the Machine were in dire need of an attackman to step up and fill a starting role. Cockerton 2.15 points per game last season. After he was benched for the last two games of the season and playoffs, Cockerton hit the offseason with a chip on his shoulder.

In 2017 Cockerton played in all 14 of the Machine’s games and played a vital role of an offense that is ranked third in the league with 14.41 points per 45 possessions. While being surrounded by a star-studded cast, Cockerton found his niche as an off-ball finisher. He has scored more assisted goals this year (28) than total goals last year (24). Those 28 goals are good for fifth in the entire league only behind proven stars like Michael Bocklet, Will Manny, Davey Emala, and sharpshooter Ryan Brown.

Cockerton was a no-brainer when it came time to vote for the nominees for Maverik Most Improved Player of the Year. His seamless transition into a consistent starting role filled big shoes left by Stanwick and Grant Jr. and has helped the Machine make another run at the Steinfeld Cup.

Kyle Bernlohr, G, Ohio Machine

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If you have two goalies, you don’t have any goalies”? As that might be true in some cases, it is surely not the case with the Ohio Machine. Ohio runs out two of the best goalies in the league and their defense has ranked in the top three the last two years.

Last year Scott Rodgers led a third-ranked defense and held opposing offenses to 13.09 points per 45 possessions. As Rodgers dominated between the pipes, Kyle Bernlohr only saw 24 minutes of playing time the whole year.

In 2017 Bernlohr played in 10 games and has been absolutely outstanding. The defense is now only giving up 11.61 points per 45 possessions and Bernlohr is a big reason why. As the leader of The Faceless Men, he has posted a 56.96 save percentage. More importantly, Bernlohr is leading the league in clean save percentage at 40 percent. These clean saves are paying huge dividends on the offensive side of the ball as the Machine come in second in the league in offensive efficacy after a save, scoring on 36.56 percent of possessions following a save.

The Machine can’t choose wrong when it comes to who will play in cage for them in the 2017 playoffs and even if Bernlohr doesn’t get the nod, it doesn’t diminish the amazing season he has had.

Kylor Bellistri, A, Boston Cannons

The Boston Cannons had a tough second half of the season. After an inexplicable and infamous midseason trade, the Cannons were left reeling for offensive production. In Will Manny’s absence, the Cannons may have found the next person who can hold the keys to the offense: Kylor Bellistri.

Bellistri broke out this season, nearly tripling his point total. Scoring over four times as many goals and dishing out almost twice as many assists, Bellistri’s sophomore campaign was a pleasant surprise. In his rookie season, Bellistri had 13 points in just six games and shot only 18.51 percent from the field. One year later, feeling much more comfortable on the MLL stage, Bellistri finished with a team high 37 points and shot 35.38 percent from the field.

The Cannons have found an attackman that can do it all. Of Bellistri’s 23 goals, 11 of them were unassisted and 12 were assisted. Throughout the season he showed flashes of physical dodges from X, the capability to draw a slide and find the open man, and the adept ability to find a space off ball and finish.

However, the fast break is where Bellistri shined the brightest. He led the league in fast break points with 18, beating out players like Ryan Brown and former teammate Will Manny. As the point man on the Cannon’s fast break, Bellistri encompassed a skill both Brown and Manny do not illustrate: passing. As a sophomore, Bellistri led the league in fast break assists with seven while Brown had zero and Manny managed one.

While I don’t believe Bellistri will get the Maverik Most Improved player of the year this year, I do believe this is just the start to Bellistri’s rise to stardom. He has a multitude of skill sets that will only develop more as he is given more and more responsibilities in the Cannon’s offense. The Cannons can take at least one positive out of this season; they have a stud attackman for years to come.

I believe that Cockerton will win the Maverik Most Improved Player of the Year for the 2017 season. His production as a role player in such a star studded offense has led the Machine to where they are now. Plus, how can you not give it to a guy who rides like this?

P.S. Cockerton is 5’10” 185 and Molnar is 6’2” 225…