IL Indoor's 2020 NLL Defender of the Year: Graeme Hossack

May 29, 2020

Goalies were stopping balls at historic rates this National Lacrosse League season. While the guys between the pipes deserve much of the credit for that, of course, the goalies and their coaches will readily tell you that a lot of their success can be attributed to the guys playing defence in front of them. And this year, the defenders may have been just as good as the numbers show the goalies to have been.

Ryan Dilks was back from a year's hiatus, Brad Kri continues to develop into one of the best in the league, Kyle Rubisch just keeps playing at a high level and Steve Priolo bounced back from injuries to help the Buffalo Bandits turn a corner with his leadership and excellent two-way play. Those four players round out the top five of the voting, and any would be worthy selection for the Defensive Player of the Year.

But one player stood above all others in this year's voting. The Cyborg, Graeme Hossack of the Halifax Thunderbirds, received five of six first-place votes and one second to take 29 of 30 possible points in a runaway confirmation that he is now the best in the business.

Hossack was third in the league with 18 caused turnovers, but his impact in the defensive zone goes well beyond the numbers on the stats sheet. He changes the way that teams approach their offensive sets. There isn't a player in the league who's better at separating forwards from the ball and knocking them to the floor.

The other element of Hossack's game that has taken off the last couple of seasons is what happens after the ball hits the turf. Hossack is running the floor more and more successfully. Even with Halifax playing just 12 games this season, he set a new career high with 9 goals and he was on pace to hit a new career mark of 27 points. It's almost unfair for one player to be so good at both ends of the floor. Throw in his quiet leadership and calming influence, and you've got a pretty ideal player who seems likely to be in line for plenty more awards in the seasons to come.

Voting procedure

The nine awards are voted on by our panel of seven staff writers, each of whom votes for up to five candidates in each category. Points are awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis.

The voters are co-editors Bob Chavez and Stephen Stamp along with writers Brian Shanahan, Marty O'Neill, Pat Gregoire and Graeme Perrow.

The Voting

Defender of the Year







Graeme Hossack







Ryan Dilks







Brad Kri







Kyle Rubisch







Steve Priolo







Jeff Cornwall







Greg Downing







Robert Hope







Matt Beers









Stephen Stamp
Graeme Hossack, Ryan Dilks, Greg Downing, Bradley Kri, Kyle Rubisch

Graeme Hossack is the new gold standard among NLL defenders. This year, he stood out above a whole bunch of really good players to earn this award. Whether or not you think he should be considered the transition player of the year, as well (for the record, I voted for him in that category, too), there's no question that he has added scoring prowess to his already stalwart defensive game. Hossack is the most imposing defender in the game thanks to his size and massive strength combined with defensive skills honed through hard work.

Ryan Dilks had to take a year off because of his firefighting probationary period and somehow managed to come back even better than he was before. Dilks showed the kind of anticipation and quickness that allowed him to be on pace for 49 caused turnovers, which would have been behind only Kyle Rubisch's record of 61 from 2014 and Dilks' own incredible 51-CTO season of 2016.

Greg Downing is as steady and consistent a defender as there is in lacrosse. He doesn't do much that's flashy but he almost always makes the correct read and the smart play. He missed a few games because of injury, which resulted in his counting stats being a bit below his usual levels, but at age 34 he's still at the top of his game.

Bradley Kri has gotten better and better, and it looks like everyone is starting to recognize just how good he has become after toiling in relative under-appreciation for a few years. Kri plays a robust style in his own zone and has shown he increased confidence moving the ball up the floor, which put him on pace to set new career highs in assists and points after more than doubling his previous high mark last season.

It seems odd to have Kyle Rubisch this far down my list of top defenders this season. It has less to do with any slippage by him—because he is still dominant and intimidating defensive force—and more to do with other players just upping their games to a level that Rubisch has always played at but few could usually match.

I do want to mention Steve Priolo here. I didn't include him in my vote because he missed some games due to injury and was limited by their lingering effects in some, so I don't think it was his best season overall. But Priolo deserves a ton of credit for the obvious impact he had on the Bandits when he was in the lineup; their turnaround from some early-season woes directly correlated to his return to health, and when he's on his game there's no question that he's among the very best in the sport.

Marty O'Neill
1) Ryan Dilks - Dilks elevated himself to being the most mobile defender on the Rush, making him noticeable on both ends of the floor.

2) Graeme Hossack - Graeme is a force. Arguably one of the top three players in the game, Hossack’s only weakness is sometimes spreading himself too thin by doing so much. Graeme is my pick for the best takeaway defender in NLL history.

3) Jeff Cornwall - The return of Rush's defensive domination coincided with the return of Ryan Dilks and Jeff Cornwall. Cornwall was and still remains underrated. Even with the Rush's legendary offense, they were winning some low scoring games in 2020. This sheds light on Cornwall's return.

4) Steve Priolo - Priolo returned to his defense-first mentality and Buffalo's backend seemed better for it. Steve remains large and in charge and clocks in with more minutes than most defenders in the league.

5) Bradley Kri - When I think of the Toronto Rock not many superstars come to mind. Bradly Kri quietly goes about making monumental contributions to a team that is usually banged up an overachieving. Kri never misses a chance to get stuck in and seems to improve every single season. 2020 was his best so far.

Graeme Perrow
Hossack has all the qualities you'd want in a defensive player: size, strength, floor vision, a great ability to pick off passes, and his lacrosse IQ is off the charts. He's one of the hardest working players on the floor, and from what I've heard about his training regimen, one of the hardest working players off the floor as well. He's won two straight NLL Defensive Player of the Year awards and it's not unlikely he'll win more of those over the rest of his career, but Transition Player of the Year and MVP awards aren't out of the realm of possibility either. -

Bob Chavez
There are so many quality choices on the back end these days as players make defense a focal point and a priority, not just a byproduct. Hossack’s added a bit of offensive flair to his game, but he’s still a lockdown defender with precision and technical abilities that set the standard.

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