EVERETT — Playing lacrosse over the years, Kyle Buchanan has earned a label that most athletes never want to hear — “undersized.”
Buchanan, who stands 5-feet-8 inches tall and weighs 160 pounds, hasn’t grown much in terms of size, but he has replaced his old label with one that sounds a bit better — professional lacrosse player.
The Washington Stealth selected Buchanan, a right-handed forward, with the 48th overall selection in the sixth round of the National Lacrosse League’s entry draft this past October. Despite being selected in the lower rounds, Buchanan finds himself on the Stealth’s opening day roster after an impressive training camp.
“I think just watching him for a couple of seconds and you see how good of a player he is,” veteran Stealth forward Lewis Ratcliff said. “You may underestimate him because of his size, but you can’t teach smarts and you can’t teach lacrosse IQ, and he’s got a lot of both.
“It was pretty obvious from the first practice that he was going to make this team.”
For Stealth head coach Chris Hall, seeing Buchanan on the floor for the first time was an eye-opening experience.
“It was pretty exciting for me because I didn’t really know too much about him other than what (general manager) Doug Locker had told me about him,” Hall said. “I hadn’t really seen him play at all, so looking at it from purely a statistical point of view, he had great stats and he had a pretty good resume. He was ranked very high by most of the pundits. So, you had to think when he was still sitting there in the late rounds that he was a guy that was kind of a no-brainer for us to pick at that time.
“Ever since then I continue to be amazed that a guy with those kinds of skills and that intelligence about the game lasted that long in the draft.”
The 25-year-old Buchanan’s size is the most logical reason why teams would pass on him in the draft’s early rounds, but he has learned to overcome what so many in the sport have thought he couldn’t.
“I’ve kind of been small my whole life,” he said. “It’s kind of made me better in a lot of senses with regards to work ethic. I think having that chip on my shoulder has given me an extra incentive. You know, people telling me I can’t do things. I kind of thrive on that kind of mentality and I think it gets me better and I’m my own biggest critic, so undersized doesn’t really bother me.”
And as many great athletes do, Buchanan has found a way to turn what many view as a weakness into one of his strengths.
“Sometimes I try to use it to my advantage,” he said. “I think it’s made me a lot smarter. I can be able to get to certain areas that big guys usually get to, but because of my size it’s been a learning experience and I love that part of the game.”
The instincts that Buchanan has used to overcome his size are the same instincts that have allowed him to excel at every level of lacrosse he has played — and a big reason why he made the Stealth roster.
“The biggest thing with him and I think the biggest reason why he was a shoe-in for this team was just his instincts,” Stealth forward Rhys Duch said. “He reads the game well and where a lot of players can develop their skills and move forward in the game that way, he has just got a knowledge for the game that I think is kind of unteachable. His instincts are remarkable and then you match it with good skills and it just makes him a threat no matter what.”
The Seattle Seahawks’ third-round draft pick, quarterback Russell Wilson, was viewed as undersized for much of his football career as well. Many NFL insiders scoffed at the Seahawks’ pick of Wilson for that reason, but after setting a franchise record for passer rating in a season (100.0) and leading his team to an 11-5 record and the playoffs, Wilson proved being undersized can work.
If the Stealth can get Buchanan to produce anywhere close to what Wilson did for the Seahawks, it could mean a return to success for the Stealth, who finished with a record of 4-12 last season, the worst in the NLL.
“It’s not like he just got tiny or that he just shrunk,” Duch said of Buchanan. “He’s been playing undersized his whole career and he’s obviously had success. So, play to your strengths right? And he is. He is shifty and he is quick and he’s got great skills and reads the game well. So, I don’t think size is going to be a factor.”
Buchanan’s impressive training camp performance made it even easier for the Stealth to part ways with Jeff Zywicki, also a right-handed forward who had played a key role on the Stealth’s run to the NLL championship game in 2010 and 2011. When final cuts were made, the Stealth released Zywicki, but kept Buchanan.
“You really have to be careful in this league in giving up goal scorers and giving up on goal scorers,” Hall said. “Goals and goal scorers are tough to come by in this league because the defensives are so big and strong and athletic. Jeff was a marvelous goal scorer and there were times where he really made the power play click. So, we had to have a pretty high level of confidence that Buchanan was the type of guy could bring to the table what Jeff did.
“It was not a decision that was made easily.”
Hopefully for the Stealth, Buchanan is the type of player that the other eight teams in the league will wish they hadn’t have passed on in the weeks to come.
“Time will tell,” Duch said. “I mean, obviously we are big on him, but he’s got something to prove. I don’t want to put more pressure on him than need be, but I can sit here and praise him all I want, but time will tell.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.