After a month of anticipation following the release of protected rosters from the original six PLL clubs, the seventh club, Waterdogs LC, has the beginnings of a full roster. Andy Copelan selected 18 players from the unprotected player pool and started down the path of creating an identity for the team. The draft contained some picks that were surprises, some that were expected, and players from all original six clubs moving over to the Waterdogs.
Even though Andy Copelan and his staff have had a month to settle on their 18 players, it wasn’t until the last days leading up to the draft that the roster was decided upon. “We were right up to the 11th hour. We had 15 guys that we were good on, then about 10 names for the last three spots.”
Copelan’s first pick was Connor Kelly, who has the versatility to play any spot on offense, and attack was an early focus.
“We led with the attack, and we really love the guys we have at that position. And we wanted to balance experience and versatility. The four poles we drafted can play up top or down low, and guys like Connor Kelly can play at attack or run out of the box,” Copelan said.
Versatility was another point of emphasis for Copelan, drafting hybrid attackmen like Kelly and Ben Reeves, two-way midfielders like Kyle McClancy and Ryan Conrad, and defenders like Brodie Merrill and Brian Karalunas, who have experience playing close defense and long-stick midfield.
“One of our challenges is our gameday roster is 18. You need guys that you can move around within the framework of what you’re trying to do,” explained Copelan.
“The two things that define this draft are the versatility piece and making sure we have a good balance of experience and inexperience.”
Settling on the roster was not a one-man job, and the process according to Copelan was “very collaborative.” Coach Copelan and his staff targeted 50 players in total, speaking to 30 of them on the phone before narrowing their list. In addition to talking to players, Copelan also reach out to their college coaches and teammates.
“Over MLK weekend we had about a seven hour pow wow to really go through our lists. When we looked at each of our lists of 18 guys, they were really very similar. We just had to work through the last 2 or 3 guys,” Copelan said
With just 18 spots, it was inevitable that very strong players would go undrafted and return to their original club. Not including the now retired Greg Gurenlian, there were five unprotected All Stars, and three of them went back to their original team, those three being Sergio Salcido, Miles Thompson, and Cade Van Raaphorst. The expansion draft having only 18 picks meant players of that caliber simply might not be selected.
“We sent some really good players back to their original ball clubs that we’re going to have to compete against. That’s not a fun thing, but the original six coaches had to stop at 11 players for their protected rosters and we had to stop at 18 with the expansion draft. So, it’s all part of the process.”
Where would Copelan have gone if he could have made a 19th pick?
“It would probably be a guy like Sergio [Salcido], [Pat] Harbeson, or Jack Kelly from the Redwoods. I’ve talked to Sergio, and that kid is awesome. I really think highly of him, but we had to stop at 18. I loved Eric Scott and Curtis Dickson from Chaos, and Romar [Dennis] and Max Tuttle were guys we gave serious consideration,” Copelan said.
Salcido, Harbeson, and Dennis were three players that spoke with Pro Lacrosse Talk prior to the draft. Along with Drew Snider, they explained how they felt about going unprotected and the possibility of being taken in the expansion draft. Copelan saw some of those comments, but when asked if they were a factor when it came time to draft players said it did not effect his decision.
“No, [it didn’t have an effect]. These are pros playing at the highest level. Certainly, you’ll have some Type-A’s and guys that are used to being really impactful, and that’s part of healthy competition. We’re focused on the 18 guys we have, and I really love this group,” Copelan said.
The other PLL head coaches now doubt were watching to learn just who they’d be losing and who would be returning to the roster after going unprotected. Copelan said that he’s been in touch with other coaches around the PLL, and has been a fan of the camaraderie to this point.
“One thing I love about PLL, we’re all competitors but we’re not keeping our cards really close to the chest. [Other head coaches] had guys they were disappointed to say goodbye to, but they’re getting about 85% of their roster back,” Copelan said.
With the expansion draft completed, eyes turn toward the entry draft in March and college draft in April. The Waterdogs draft picks in the entry draft will be determined via a lottery and they will draft third in first round of the college draft, before drafting first in the subsequent three rounds.
Coach Copelan was asked if he considered players in the expansion draft, but ultimately decided against them thinking he could get a similar player in the entry draft, rumored to contain multiple MLL stars, or the college draft with an incredibly deep class available.
“I don’t know where we will fall in the entry draft lottery. If I did, that might have been more of a consideration. For the college draft, it’s an outstanding senior class. But as an example, we didn’t want to not take a faceoff guy and put all our eggs on getting TD [Ierlan]. There’s [Gerard] Arceri and [Kyle] Gallagher too, but Drew [Simoneau] is a pro, and he went 44% against the guys that are in this league, as a backup, when you aren’t able to get a rhythm — which any faceoff guy will tell you is important,” Copelan said.
With 18 players selected, the Waterdogs roster is about 75% complete. While PLL rosters are capped at 25, gameday rosters will be going from 20 players to 18 players in 2020. That means these first 18 picks will soon be competing against entry draft selections and college draft picks for a spot on the first Waterdogs game day roster. While the Waterdogs have a roster that can contend as is, there will be many more changes coming to the roster that ultimately takes the field this summer.
To hear more from Coach Andy Copelan on his career, reuniting with former Fairfield goaltender Charlie Cipriano and the importance of drafting veteran leaders like Drew Snider and Brodie Merrill, listen to episode 64 of the Pro Lacrosse Talk podcast.