It took some doing, but the Burnaby Lakers have put themselves in the catbird seat.
Vying to join the Western Lacrosse Association’s upper echelon, the Lakers wheeled and dealed themselves into a position of strength by parcelling up Casey Jackson and a handful of draft picks to acquire Eli McLaughlin and the No. 1 selection in next month’s junior draft.
After last year’s disappointing playoff miss -- finishing fifth overall in a three-way tie for third place -- the Lakers were itching to add an impact player.
With two of the top-three ranked graduating juniors of the transition variety, Burnaby decided to shoot for the moon and shipped their third overall pick, both their second and third round choices, a third in 2017 and Jackson to Nanaimo for the top pick in the Feb. 10 draft.
The top offensive-skilled player available is Josh Byrne, a New Westminster junior who counted 118 goals in 43 junior games.
“He certainly is being touted as the best player, offensively, in this year’s group,” remarked Burnaby president Ed Safarik. “(Lakers management and scouts) are still talking but there are three players we feel who are above the rest. Right now, I’d say we’re leaning towards (Byrne).”
Another lefthanded shooter is also something that the team has on its checklist, but getting McLaughlin in the swap -- himself the second overall choice in 2015 -- addresses part of that need.
“We’re still discussing (our draft priorities) but it’s a good discussion,” said Safarik. “Scoring was an issue last year, and with (Jackson) getting a job in Victoria, we needed to accommodate his situation and replace him.”
Getting the No. 1 pick also added a layer of intrigue to next month’s proceedings, which unlike recent drafts will be a closed affair, open only to team officials and the media.
The New Westminster senior Salmonbellies had earlier scooped up the second overall pick in the draft off of Coquitlam, likely with an eye on claiming the hometown talent.
Safarik conceded that last year’s result was partially due to off-floor losses; netminder Tyler Richards retired a week before the season began, and Tyler Digby moved mid-season to Pittsburgh.
Early indications suggest Digby is entertaining a return to the WLA, and is currently a key member of the National Lacrosse League’s Calgary Roughnecks.
The netminding situation will require addressing, the Burnaby president said, with a possible trade the best solution to getting sophomore Tye Belanger a strong challenger.
“We are going to consider the available options, but some teams back east may have three quality goalies, and there may be an opportunity there.”
New Westminster said they will be happy to choose the best player available at No. 2, and believe any of the four top graduating players will be impact players.
“This is the fun time of the season where everyone is tied for first place, everyone is aiming to be the champion,” said Richardson.
“To be honest we see this as a two-tier draft, where the top-four players are real impact players and we definitely feel at No. 2, we will get a player who can help us take that next step.”
Joining Byrne among the most coveted are Coquitlam grads Michael Messenger and Challen Rogers and Langley’s James Rahe.
Richardson isn’t tipping his hand, but feels the club will do well with the second choice.
“(Byrne) played well for us in the playoffs, he’s a New West guy and there’s no doubt he’s someone we’d love to have. But Messenger, Rahe and Rogers are all impact players too and our scouts and I think any of the four would be great additions.”
Safarik likes the foundation the team has built over the past handful of years, led by veterans Dane Stevens, Jason and Scott Jones, and all-star Robert Church.
It’s a core that, if intact, should put them in the race for second place at least. That’s what made last year’s finish so frustrating, he said.
“Three of us were equal and (second-place New West) was right there, too,” said Safarik. “There wasn’t much space between us. A lot of things went wrong and you can blame some external facts but if we had played a little more head’s up and just won one of those last two games we’d have been (in the playoffs).”