OAKVILLE, ONT. — Josh Byrne was slotted to go to the Bandits in nearly every mock draft going back months. That didn’t mean his nerves were gone, and for good reason. Buffalo nearly threw an enormous curveball.
Buffalo GM Steve Dietrich said the Bandits had two sheets of paper to send to the NLL table, one with Byrne’s name on it and the other with transition player Zach Currier’s. In the end, the Bandits made the expected move in selecting Byrne, a lefty forward, with the No. 1 pick in Monday night’s National Lacrosse League Draft.
Dietrich said his selection came down to the difficulty of finding elite left-handed forwards.
“The toughest thing to find in the sport right now is offensive lefties,” Dietrich said. “To get one that is big, athletic, a goal scorer, young, it was too hard to pass up.”
Byrne has impressed the past two seasons in the Western Lacrosse Association, one of the two top-tier summer indoor leagues. In his rookie season with the Burnaby Lakers he notched 29 points in 11 games and 24 points in seven playoff games. He built on that in year two despite a shorter stint. He put up 16 points in four regular season games and 19 points in six playoff games.
The Hofstra graduate was also successful playing outdoors professionally, scoring a Major League Lacrosse rookie record 39 goals with the Chesapeake Bayhawks this summer.
“He’s played against men,” Dietrich said. “It’s always nice when they’ve proven against the competition they’re going to see.”
Byrne made sense for the Bandits because of both talent and fit. Buffalo was in need of a left-handed forward after trading lefty Ryan Benesch to Colorado for righty forward Callum Crawford and goalie Alex Buque in August.
Dietrich turned that side of the offense from a weakness to a strength early in the evening, adding both Byrne and Jordan Durston, who he acquired from the Vancouver Stealth for forward Anthony Malcom and the 12th overall pick in a pre-draft move. Durston, 23, scored 25 goals and 43 points in 18 games last season.
“We’re ecstatic right now with our left side,” Dietrich said.
Buffalo’s offense now boasts former league MVP Dhane Smith, Byrne and three others with 30-goal NLL seasons under their belt.
Byrne said he sees the pieces for Buffalo to get back to a Champions Cup-caliber squad. Buffalo lost in the finals in 2016, but took a tremendous step backwards with a 6-10 season in 2017.
“I’m very happy with the Bandits,” Byrne said. “They definitely have a great foundation. … Now that it’s all set and done, it takes a lot off me. I’m just happy to be here now.”
With the Bandits’ second-round pick they snagged Nanaimo Timbermen forward Chase Fraser, a player Dietrich said the team had in the top five of the draft. Late in the second round, Dietrich turned to the defense, which lost Billy Dee Smith and David Brock in free agency, by selecting Ethan Schott of the Jr. A Whitby Warriors.
A pair of Peterborough Lakers followed Byrne at the top of the draft, with defenseman Jake Withers going to the Rochester Knighthawks and Currier falling to the Calgary Roughnecks.
Rounding out the draft for Buffalo was forward Dallas Bridle, defenseman Connor Laird, forward Dylan Molloy, forward Mackenzie Mitchell and transition player Braden Wallace.