ISL Rookie Draft: Who Should Each Team Select?

ryan-hoffer

ISL Rookie Draft: Who Should Each Team Select? 

The time has finally come! Since the International Swimming League (ISL) announced its plan to have swimming’s first-ever draft, swimming fans have been anxiously awaiting June 29. While preparing to select the swimmers it wants to retain in Season Three, teams are simultaneously weighing which athletes to draft in order to bolster its franchise. 

Once teams select their returning rosters for next season, the draft kicks off with a rookie-only round. Considering the ISL Rookie Draft eligibility list posted on the league’s website, let’s weigh the needs for each team and who it should select in the round. 

Aqua Centurions 

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Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

The Italian-based team had a rough Season Two, missing several top swimmers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Returning the majority of their stars from Seasons One and Two, combined with having the number one pick in both the rookie and swimmer draft, the team is primed for a playoff run in Season Three. 

Ryan Hoffer or Arno Kammiga is widely expected in swimming circles to be the number one rookie pick, and had it been any team besides AQC with the first pick, I would agree. The issue is Hoffer and Kammiga both represent the team’s strengths on the men’s side. With its first five retention spots, the team selected top-Italian breaststrokers Nicolo Martinenghi and Fabio Scozzoli. Additionally, the team can retain Hungarian superstar Sebastian Szabo along with world-class sprinters in Alessandro Miressi, Vladislav Grinev, Marcelo Chierighini, and others. 

Given the talent the team possesses on the men’s side, it may make more sense for AQC to select an instant impact women’s swimmer. While they have a strong breaststroke core in Martina Carraro and Arianna Castiglioni, and Federica Pellegrini leading their mid-distance free group, the team lacks a world-class sprinter. 

Acquiring someone like Season Two breakout star Kasia Wasick would be perfect for a team looking to bolster its women’s roster. Wasick constantly churned out impressive performances for the New York Breakers throughout the bubble, defeating the likes of 2012 Olympic Champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo during the season. She is already tried and proven in the ISL and will be a massive boost to the Centurions sprint free, skins races, and relays. 

My pick: Kasia Wasick, Poland 

DC Trident 

Where the DC Trident decides to strengthen is a tossup. The team did not have an exceptionally talented roster in the first place. With multiple Season Two squad members not signing up for the league in 2021, its issues are only compounded heading into Season Three. On the bright side, key absentees such as Cody Miller, Jay Litherland, and Brianna Throssell should return after not competing in Season Two. 

Taking everything into consideration, the Trident still has multiple places they need to strengthen. The most glaring issue is sprint butterfly. The team has Zach Harting, but he is more of a 200 guy and does not possess the same quality in the shorter events. Who better to pick up than the 2021 NCAA Champion in the 100-yard butterfly and arguably the best short-course swimmer in the draft? 

With his underwater strength, Ryan Hoffer should be an instant hit in the ISL. He would immediately solve the sprint butterfly problems, plus he can beef up a Zach Apple-led sprint-free group. He can also be an option for fly and free skins races. 

If the Centurions don’t nab him, he should be the obvious choice for DC. 

My pick: Ryan Hoffer, USA 

NY Breakers 

After making the playoffs in Season Two, the Breakers look to repeat the feat and gain ground on the top four teams. Ahead of Season Three, the squad took a huge blow, losing number two scorer Marco Koch and number four scorer Kasia Wasick to the draft pool. New York’s goal for the draft should be to replace the two while also strengthening the men’s butterfly, backstroke, and sprint free, events it struggled in all season. 

The Breakers have a few options here. It could go for Australian sprinter Meg Harris or Netherlands breaststroker Arno Kamminga. Additionally, it could target a weak area and pick up someone like Romanian-junior superstar David Popovici or Nandor Nemeth

There are not many female world-class sprinters in the draft pool. Harris could be gone before the Breakers’ next pick. The Australian would also be a direct replacement for Wasick. New York may miss out on Kamminga, but it does have James Wilby, and could have a chance to pick rising star Zac-Stubletty Cook in round three. In terms of male sprinters, the draft pool isn’t short of them, so the Breakers should have a shot to acquire one in a later round. 

Given its losses and needs, Harris seems the logical choice at number three for New York. 

My Pick: Meg Harris, Australia 

Toronto Titans

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Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Looking at Toronto’s squad, it has a solid team. Besides Kylie Masse and Kayla Sanchez, the Titans don’t possess many star-studded swimmers. The team doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses either. For them, it’s hard to see anything more than a sixth or seventh-place finish. 

The main aim for the Titans should be to draft swimmers that can have long-lasting impacts in events. The best swimmer on the board now is Arno Kamminga. Adam Peaty has been in a league of his own in sprint breaststroke over the past six years. Kamminga is the only one that has come close to encroaching on the Brit’s territory. At only 25, I believe he has another five plus seasons of world-class swimming in him. 

Kamminga is the superstar Toronto needs on the men’s side. The Dutchman could be a critical piece to the Titans’ push to becoming a top-tier team in years to come. 

My Pick: Arno Kamminga, Netherlands

Team Iron 

Hungary’s Team Iron is in a great position heading into Season Three. It has the opportunity to bring back almost all its scorers, including ISL Rookie of the Year Emre Sacki and Ranomi Kromowidjojo. Additionally, the franchise welcomes back world-record holder Kristof Milak as he sat out last season after a battle with COVID-19. 

Iron has the potential to be a finals team, but only if swimmers like Katinka Hosszu step up and perform this season. The “Iron Lady” was not at her best last season, and it showed in the Iron women’s points tally throughout the matches. While improved form from Hosszu could fix many of the problems the team had last season, one issue that may be beyond her is Iron’s freestyle issues. Kromowidjojo was consistent all season, but she had no one in support. In the semifinal, the women’s 400 free relays finished seventh and eighth. It is rare to find a swimmer that can swim the 100 up to the 400, which is why I decided to propose a risky pick. 

Summer McIntosh. At 14 years old, I believe she has the potential to have Katie Ledecky-like range. The talented Canadian already qualified for the Olympics, and she’s only just getting started. She’s a pick for the now and the future. 

My Pick: Summer McIntosh, Canada

Tokyo Frog Kings 

The Japanese franchise has every reason to be excited for Season Three. Daiya Seto is back. After serving a suspension from the Japanese Swimming Federation for an extramarital affair, Seto aims to lead the Frog Kings to a historic finals appearance. Despite having a small retention pool, the team has multiple talented swimmers to choose from. Tokyo should be up there with the best on the men’s side, but as it stands, its women could struggle if it does not acquire impactful additions. A major hole left in the squad is in breaststroke. The Frog Kings lost practically all its breaststrokers from last season. It has Kanako Watanabe in its retention pool, but she does not have the speed to keep up with the league’s top breaststrokers in the shorter distance. 

Someone who has the ability to hang with that crowd is newly-minted Australian Olympian, Chelsea Hodges. She has been on a tear this year, ranking in the world top-ten in both the 50 and 100 breast. Not only will she will the voids Reona Aoki and others left, but she could be a positive contributor in the skins events and medley relay. 

My pick: Chelsea Hodges, Australia 

LA Current 

After two fourth-place finishes, the Current is looking to break into the top-three in Season Three. Although the David Marsh-led squad boasts superstars Ryan Murphy and Beryl Gastaldello, it hasn’t seemed to be able to get close to the three teams above them. While the team excelled in the men’s backstrokes and women’s sprint freestyle, LA struggled mightily in women’s breaststroke. In the ISL final, the team recorded a mere four points over the three distances. All the teams above them possess at least one world-class breaststroker, and the Current needs one itself if it wants to bridge the gap. 

At just 16 years old, Evgeniia Chikunova has taken over the Russian breaststroke mantle from Yulia Emifova. She is in the conversation to medal in the 200 breast in Tokyo, and has the ability to mix it up with the best in the 50 and 100. LA desperately needs a swimmer like Chikunova if it wants to continue to be considered a top team in the league. 

My pick: Evgeniia Chikunova, Russia 

London Roar 

MATT TEMPLE FINISH

Photo Courtesy:

Despite missing many of its stars due to Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions, the London Roar had an outstanding season to finish third in the ISL final. Given the franchise should be at full strength this season, it is a contender for the title. Looking at London’s squad, it pretty much has world-class talent all around. The Campbell sisters should make the freestyle relay the best in the league. Emma McKeon does not only provide sprint butterfly capabilities as she is the best 100 freestyler in the world right now. 

Minna Atherton, the short course 100 back world record holder, was the breakout star in Season One. The Roar hopes she’s in that sort of form come the fall. Olympic Champion Kyle Chalmers takes the burden off workhorse Duncan Scott with his sprint-free expertise. 

So what else could London Roar possibly need to be the best team in the league?

The team could use some depth in butterfly and sprint free on the men’s side. London’s relays struggled in the final, and it looked like one or two swimmers away from closing in on the other three teams. Matt Temple had a breakout Australian Olympic Trials a few weeks ago, hitting the third-fastest time in the world this year in the 100 fly, establishing himself as a medal contender in Toyko. He also has 1:55 long course 200 fly speed, in addition to being a part of the Australian 400 free relay pool, making him the exact type of swimmer the Roar need. 

With the Australians back, the London Roar looks a few pieces away from a championship team. Nabbing Temple and a few other solid additions could fill those gaps. 

My Pick: Matt Temple, Australia 

Energy Standard 

Energy Standard did not necessarily underperform last season. The Cali Condors were just flawless. To regain its title, the Turkish-based team is going to need all its stars at 100 percent. Additionally, it has to try its best to prevent Cali jackpots. 

While Energy Standard should retain almost all its top performers, one big miss is Danas Rapsys, who did not register for the league this year. Beyond the Lithuanian, the team was poor in mid-distance free. Having a good 200 and 400 swimmer is especially important now that the league added scoring checkpoints in the 400 free. 

Taking that into consideration, Energy Standard’s main goal should be to replace Rapsys with the best mid-distance freestyler available. Looking at the Rookie Draft Pool, Russia’s Martin Malyutin fits the bill. He’s ranked fourth in the world in both the 200 and 400 this season. Given the names ahead of him in the 400 are not registered for the ISL in 2021, he may be the best 400 freestyler in the league this season. 

Looking at his pedigree and the changes to the 400 free in season three, a lower-ranked team may secure his services earlier on. If he’s still in the draft after eight picks, Energy Standard most definitely has to take him. 

My Pick: Martin Malyutin, Russia 

Cali Condors 

The Cali Condors were immaculate in Season Two. With the ISL’s two most dominant swimmers, Lilly King and Caeleb Dressel leading the team, the Condors were a class above the rest. The team felt so flawless it feels nitpicky trying to figure out places it could strengthen. 

The men didn’t do well last season in the 200IM, but with Mitch Larkin back, that is no longer an issue. Losing Tate Jackson is a blow, but the Condors have more than enough sprint-free talent to make up for that. Women’s sprint free looked like a worry before Natalie Hinds and Olivia Smoliga both qualified for Tokyo in the 400 free relay. 

One spot that could use some bolstering is the women’s mid-distance freestyle. It was not entirely surprising to see Allison Schmitt not register for the league, but Ariarne Titmus was. With those two out, Cali has no pure 200 and 400 women. Looking at the draft pool, one name that stood out was Paige Madden. The former University of Virginia star followed up her distance triple at NCAAs, surprising many and scoring Olympic spots in the 400 free and 800 free relay. She seems to be constantly improving and could be an impact swimmer for the Condors in Season Three. 

My Pick: Paige Madden, USA

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