The Rochester Rattlers are scoring 2.66 fewer points per 45 possessions than last season. There are short-term issues responsible for the dip (i.e. Jordan Wolf missed three games with a hand injury); but the Rattlers are facing a long-term issue on the left side of the field.
The Rattlers roll through left-handed attackmen like Hogwarts goes through Defense Against the Dark Arts professors. In 2014 it was Mark Cockerton who scored 24 goals in nine games. In 2015 the Rattlers experimented with Cockerton and Ty Thompson before settling on Mark Matthews (11G, 4A in five games) for the postseason. Last summer, the Rattlers found their best combo yet: Ty Thompson (16G, 6A) and Jesse King (25G, 10A) playing a two-man game opposite the main attraction of Jordan Wolf and Jordan MacIntosh.
This offseason the Atlanta Blaze claimed Jesse King, who has yet to see MLL action this spring as he rehabs from surgery. King had unique two-man game chemistry with Thompson, and he buried an incredible 21-of-28 (75.0%) catch-and-shoot looks last summer per moneyballlacrosse.com.
Replacing him has been no easy task. The Rattlers sent a first-round draft pick to New York for lefty JoJo Marasco, who is known more as a dodger than as that type of off-ball player (21.7% catch-and-shoot since the start of 2015). Rookie Dan Lomas shot 2-for-8 (25.0%) off the catch in limited time this season. Searching for a proxy for King, the Rattlers turned to his alma mater in the collegiate draft.
Second-round pick Eric Fannell (Ohio State) is poised to slide into King’s former role immediately. The St. Catharines native finished his senior season with 66 points (36G, 30A), and while it’s tough to project how his dodging success will translate to MLL, the way he leverages his 6-foot-1, 220 lb. frame to put defenders on his back bodes well.
If Fannell can add a scoring punch from the left-hand side, this Rattlers offense can retain its spot atop MLL’s best. Playing in the same pick-heavy collegiate offense as King, there’s a chance Fannell finds similar chemistry with Ty Thompson early on. King served as a left-handed Jordan MacIntosh – a wonderfully savvy picker who timed his rolls perfectly, slipped against aggressive defenses and spaced the field for Thompson to go to work.
Fannell will have his chances to finish off-ball. Wolf (8A, 3TO in three games) draws double teams faster than anyone in the league, and lately, he has been carving up recovering defenses. King finished more shots (6-for-6) from Wolf than anyone last season; plant Fannell on the backside pipe or ask him to cut to ties, and you’ll see similar results.
The question is what Fannell can provide as a feeder. King’s passing (9A, 12TO in 10 games) turned what was a slightly above average Rattlers defense into the best unit in the league (before Wolf and MacIntosh suffered season-ending injuries). His stats as a senior are impressive (30A, 33TO); the tape is straight-up jaw-dropping.
A player who can hit cutters on the ear with behind-the-back passes or thread skip passes with his off-hand will find his way into an MLL lineup. With players like Brodie Merrill and Matt Bocklet covering up passing lanes, those windows are smaller – and open only briefly – in MLL. Some of the best collegiate passers become scorers only at the next level, and that’s okay.
This is Wolf’s offense – and it’s a damn good one. Fannell’s role – at least for now – is as a finisher first. Any semblance of two-man game chemistry with Ty Thompson or an ability to create his own shots on the wing is gravy.