Gregor: Rush can’t wait to draft Matthews with No. 1 pick
University of Denver star expected to be a franchise player, top scorer
EDMONTON - The scoring drought that has plagued the Edmonton Rush since the team entered the National Lacrosse League in 2006 is over.
As of 5 p.m. Monday, there will be a new sniper in town and his name is Mark Matthews.
When Edmonton head coach/general manager Derek Keenan announces Matthews as the first overall draft pick, the Rush will have a legitimate offensive threat for the first time. The University of Denver star has been the consensus No. 1 pick for the past 12 months.
“I expect him to be a star right away in the NLL,” said longtime lacrosse analyst Brian Shanahan. “He has soft hands, poise, great finish around the net, and his size makes him almost impossible to stop. He’s already bigger and stronger than most guys in the league, so I expect him to make the transition from college to the NLL very easy.”
The talented lefty is a franchise player with the rare combination of size, speed and skill. He stands six-foot-four, weighs 230 pounds, shoots the ball 90 miles an hour, and is a great playmaker. He is also a winner, having won back-to-back Minto Cups with the Coquitlam Adanacs in 2010 and Whitby Warriors in 2011.
Matthews will add some punch to an Edmonton offence that has finished near the bottom of the league for seven seasons, but he should also sell more tickets.
“It’d be nice to see it grow a little more in Edmonton,” he said. “Hopefully, me and my new teammates can put the sport on the map. I think winning will bring the fans more than my own play.”
Keenan coached Matthews in junior at Whitby, Ont., and knows exactly what the Rush is getting.
“He’s very composed. He’s had the spotlight on him for a long time. He has immense confidence in himself; not over-confident, but he believes he can be one of the best,” said Keenan. “He works incredibly hard on his game. He studies the game and opposing players. He knows everyone’s tendencies and how to exploit them on the floor. He is a real student of the game.”
Keenan was quick to point out that Matthews won’t have to carry the Rush by himself.
“He doesn’t need to be the saviour,” Keenan said. “We have an excellent goalie in Aaron (Bold), a very young and athletic D core. He will be joining a solid team.”
But no organization wins without an elite player, and Matthews is that good.
The Rush have been involved in the NLL draft since 2005, but this is only the third time they have used their first-round draft pick. Usually, Edmonton has traded its first-round pick for veteran players in a futile attempt to make the team competitive.
Over the first seven seasons, the Rush struggled to find an identity in the NLL, compiling a disappointing 37-75 record. They’ve had one winning season — 10-6 in 2010. Their lack of overall success can be attributed to a lack of patience and no vision to the future.
The Rush had their first taste of success in 2010, making the playoffs for the first time and beating the Calgary Roughnecks before losing the West Division final in overtime.
Edmonton, which was back to its losing ways with a 5-11 record in 2011, changed its game plan last year. Instead of trading away first-round picks, the Rush acquire some. In August 2011, general manager Derek Keenan dealt his best player, Brodie Merrill, along with Dean Hill and Mike McLellan to the Philadelphia Wings for sniper Athan Iannucci, goalie Brodie McDonald, forward Alex Turner and first round picks in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The Merrill trade ignited a crazy 14-month odyssey for the Rush. It was the biggest move in Rush history, but it turned out to be the luckiest move the team ever made.
Iannucci, the main piece coming back in the deal, got into a contract dispute with the Rush and asked for a trade. After a 1-3 start, Keenan sent Iannucci to the Washington Stealth for all-star transition player Paul Rabil and the Stealth’s first-round pick in 2012. A week after the deal, Rabil informed the Rush that he wanted to play in the United States and didn’t report.
Ouch. Another slap in the face. But the Rush forged on.
The future of the franchise changed dramatically on April 20 when the Rush defeated Colorado Mammoth and the Stealth lost to the Toronto Rock. That guaranteed Washington would finish in last place, giving the Rush the first pick.
The Rush will also select eighth, 15th, 27th, 37th, 46th and 55th in Monday’s draft.
You can listen to Gregor weekdays from 2-6 p.m on the TEAM 1260, and read him at oilersnation.com
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