A few weeks ago, the LaxMetrics blog began a short series of posts labeled the “Under The Radar” series. The idea behind the project is to apply some of the data available via LaxMetrics mixed with conventional NLL stats to isolate a few players, who might not be receiving the praise they deserve.
In the opening article, we highlighted Rochester’s Thomas Hoggarth, who is one of the truly phenomenal off-ball players in the NLL. To say he is under-appreciated would be an understatement. In this post, we’ll continue by investigating the outstanding rookie campaign of another off-ball hero: New York’s Larson Sundown.
This season marks a particularly interesting era for rookies. Thanks to the cancelled 2021 season, this year’s group of rookies is pulling from two draft classes, headlined by the top two picks in the 2020 draft, New York’s Jeff Teat and Vancouver’s Reid Bowering. Amazingly, both players have met expectations and lived up to the hype. Additionally, Panther City’s Patrick Dodds has burst onto the scene as the primary weapon for the expansion squad in Fort Worth. Buffalo’s Tehoka Nanticoke should finish with well over 30 goals. Tre Leclaire and Adam Charlambides have each had flashes of brilliance for San Diego and Vancouver respectively.
But even in an average season, it’s unlikely that Sundown would be able to build much traction as a Rookie of the Year candidate. After all, he’s only 8th among rookies with 35 points. Sundown’s traditional box score numbers don’t exactly light the world on fire.
In the subsequent paragraphs, however, the LaxMetrics blog will argue that, while Sundown doesn’t belong in the Rookie of the Year conversation, he also is not a garden variety rookie. He deserves a special kind of recognition.
Because of his style of play, Sundown can’t be graded with the same metrics we might use to measure his peers’ performances. The Riptide rookie out of RIT has already developed into one of the best in the league in a series of non-traditional categories. Just 15 games into his NLL career, Sundown can already claim his place as one of the most productive and valuable off-ball players in the league.
Similar to Hoggarth, Sundown brings a tremendous amount of value to an offense without touching the ball much. His usage rate of 5.66% is one of the lowest in the league, yet he’s found a handful of ways to significantly impact the game. Like all of the best crease men in the league, Sundown has a knack for both freeing up teammates and also drawing penalties to set up Power Play opportunities. While overshadowed by Teat, Sundown currently ranks second in the league in both pick assists (15) and penalties drawn (13). Only Georgia’s Brendan Bomberry has piled up more pick assists (17) and only Nanticoke has drawn more penalties (14).
In fact, entering Week 20, Sundown is tied for 7th in the NLL in Understated Production (24.3), which quantifies the impact a player has in the “grimy” areas of the floor. The only players ahead of Sundown on the uPro leaderboard are Nanticoke, Hoggarth, Albany’s Tony Malcom, Georgia’s Jordan MacIntosh, and Buffalo’s Chris Cloutier and Kyle Buchanan. Sundown is tied with Toronto’s Dan Craig, who has ascended beyond under-the-radar status during his excellent 2022 season.
But while Sundown is elite in the “dirty work” categories, the rookie might be even more valuable elsewhere. Sundown is incredibly valuable both on the Power Play and getting to the Power Play, despite his low usage rate. For the purposes of this article, LaxMetrics has developed a new formula that measures the value a player brings to his offense as a Power Play asset. We consider an asset to be someone who helps his team earn Power Plays, while also helping to convert them into goals.
The new statistic, which may be made more widely available in the future, is called “Power Play Added” or “PP+” for short. The formula for PP+ is below:
PP+ = (Penalties Drawn x League Average Power Play %) + Power Play Goals
The number that the formula spits out can be interpreted as how many Power Play goals a player adds to his team. As you can see in the formula, the two main inputs for Power Play Added are the number of penalties a player draws and the number of Power Play goals that he scores. The league average Power Play conversion rate is constant across all players. With his 13 penalties drawn and 7 Power Play goals, this metric is where Sundown really shines.
Looking at the top-10 leaderboard for PP+, we can see that Sundown ranks second behind only Robert Church, who is the league’s leader in Power Play goals. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the PP+ top-10 is the series of names we see flanking Sundown. With the exceptions of Sundown and Saskatchewan’s Dan Lintner, the PP+ leaderboard is littered with some of the premiere names in the sport. It might seem crazy on its face, but Sundown is in the same class as Curtis Dickson, Tom Schreiber, and Dhane Smith as an asset in creating Power Play chances.
He may only rank 102nd in the Lax Metrics Weighted Average Rankings, but that’s part of the beauty in Larson Sundown’s under-the-radar debut season. If Thomas Hoggarth is the Mark Matthews of working around the crease, then Sundown might be the Jeff Teat of dirty work. If you’re not paying close attention, you might not notice what he’s up to. But rest assured, Larson Sundown is constantly bringing value to the Riptide’s offense. So next time you watch him draw a penalty, appreciate it for the skill that it is.