Burnaby bulks up defence in top-heavy draft

The back door crew just got a big boost.

The Burnaby Lakers used its first four picks in last Thursday's Western Lacrosse Association draft to fortify the defence.

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Without getting too cliched, nearly every coach and GM state how winning all starts with strength on defence.

Burnaby's Kevin Hill is one of those firm believers.

"I think we did very well and got exactly what we needed," remarked the Lakers general manager of the draft results, which saw Burnaby select Coquitlam grad Ryland Rees with the second overall pick. "We got bigger on the back end, which was one of our goals. We took a lot of good local 'D' guys -- now we're going to work the telephone to acquire a shooter."

Each of the team's first four picks -- Rees, seventh overall Graydon Bradley, ninth overall Eric Kratz and 14th overall Tyson Kirkness -- is projected to bolster a backline that surrendered the second-most goals in the WLA last year.

Rees, a PoCo product who was part of the junior Adanacs' Minto Cup championship run after being acquired at the trade deadline, comes with an impressive pedigree and an ability to impact the game at both ends of the floor.

"Ryland's just a world-class calibre player," said Hill of the righthander. "He plays the game hard, is a six-foot-two beast on transition who moves the ball well, is smart and athletic and can virtually do it all."

Rees contributed 14 goals and 17 assists over 13 games after the trade, playing a specific role on a deep Adanac roster. He added another goal in the playoffs, and tallied twice over five Minto Cup games. Prior to the Minto Cup, the 21-year-old was one of the youngest players on Canada's silver medal team at last year's FIL world lacrosse championships in Israel.

He was also a first team All-Conference player as a junior at Stony Brook last season, leading the team on ground balls and turnovers recovered. The fact that he was also team captain provided more insight into the kind of player and person he is, said Hill.

"When we spoke to some of his previous coaches they talked about the intangibles, and how he's a born leader. We've spoken with him before and since the draft, and he's looking forward to playing for us."

The majority of the first round saw offensive talents get selected after Coquitlam grabbed goaltender Christan Del Bianco No. 1 overall, and Rees went second. Langley reached over to Victoria and tagged Brad McCulley with the third overall pick, while another Shamrock, Marshal King, went fourth to Maple Ridge. The third member of Victoria's powerful attack, league scoring champion Braylon Lumb, was chosen fifth by Nanaimo. Former New West and PoCo junior Keegan Bell was drafted sixth by Victoria.

Another PoCo product, Bradley, was called with the Lakers' second pick in the first round, using a draft choice acquired last week in a deal that sent veteran defender Justin Salt to New West. At six-foot-four, the right-side defender has made the jump from junior to pro, playing on the backline of the San Diego Seals of the National Lacrosse League.

"He's got pro experience and is strong down low," said Hill. "He and (Rees) have played together for a long time, so they have chemistry."

Kratz was able to wrestle the B.C. junior league's top goaltender award away from Del Bianco in 2017, as well as named to the league all-star team two times. Last season he posted a 14-5 record, 7.44 goals against average and .824 save percentage.

Although Burnaby already has veterans Eric Penney and Zac Boychuk, with Leo Nicholson Memorial awards as the league's top goalie for each, getting Kratz at No. 9 was a strong pick.

"He always battled (Del Bianco) for the goaltender of the year award. Last year when Penney went down with an injury we were scrambling for another netminder. We don't want to be in that position again," said Hill.

As to Kirkness, the former junior Adanac has a Minto Cup to his name as a teammate of Rees and Bradley, and previous to that served as Langley's captain. He's the lone lefthander among the top four picks, and at six-foot-two brings an abrasiveness that the Lakers covet.

"He gets under people's skin," said Hill.

Burnaby rounded out the draft by grabbing PoCo's Brodie Gillespie with the 30th pick, after an 18-goal, 34-assists season, junior Laker product Mason Pomeroy at No. 35, eastern import Matthew Kim of the jr. Adanacs at 37th, Burnaby's Jordan Gabriele at 44th, and Steven Robertson with the 51st pick overall.

Kim would have probably been a gone by the third round, if not earlier, had teams been assured of his return to the west coast. Right now the Lakers will keep that door open, as the Oakville, Ont., native is considered a strong prospect with great faceoff skills and was a member, along with Rees, on Canada's under-19 silver medal team in 2016.

"At the start of the year and in exhibition some of our (NLL) guys won't be around, so all these players will get an opportunity to earn a spot," said Hill. "It's always exciting time of year, to add new, young players to the roster."

Hill said the team will focus its efforts on picking up a few offensive players, through getting last year's holdouts to return, and inquiring into possible import options from Ontario. The team will likely launch training camp in April, in preparation to kick off the 2019 season May 25 in Coquitlam.

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