Salmonbellies will wait and see in WLA draft

They’ll be counting on someone to make a mistake.

With the seventh overall pick in next week’s Western Lacrosse Association junior draft, the New Westminster Salmonbellies have to wait and listen.

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But when their chance comes, the reigning regular season champions plan to pounce.

“At seventh overall we have guys targeted, but we don’t see it as a very deep draft,” New West general manager Dan Richardson said. “One of the areas we’re looking to add to is our defence.”

Coming after last summer’s disappointing quick exit in the playoffs, the ’Bellies could use a young stopper to add to their backline core.

But off-season developments will have them keep their eyes open for offensive help, too.

It was announced last week that forward Joel McCready, who missed 2018 due to a knee injury, would miss this coming summer due to an achilles injury suffered while playing for Richardson’s Vancouver Warriors in the NLL. And while adding a new defender to work with the likes of Brett Mydske, Curtis Hodgson, Jakob Doucet and MIke Messenger is atop of his checklist, if a big-time potential offensive piece fell into the 'Bellies' lap, Richardson would be hard pressed to pass it by.

“I just don’t see the depth we’ve seen in recent drafts,” he said. “There are a couple we have our eyes on, but we have to wait our turn.”

Standout netminder Christian Del Bianco is expected to be selected first overall by his hometown Adanacs, while another Coquitlam player, Ryland Rees, is considered to be a two-way talent who is expected to go well before New West drafts.

One of a pair of defenders with the Minto Cup champion Adanacs could be an interesting fit for New West’s needs, if either falls past sixth. Graydon Bradley, a six-foot-four back door specialist, is among the better defenders in this year’s crop. Joining him as a possible first rounder is Oakville, Ont. native Matthew Kim. The former Six Nations player came west for 2018 and helped Coquitlam collect its second national title in the past three years.

Other players who could be of interest, if New West wants offence, are Victoria’s Marshal King and Braylon Lumb, New West junior Keegan Bell and Coquitlam’s Dylan Foulds.

Although he would like to beef up with a good defensive prospect, New West’s GM is also confident with the crew he has returning. Last year’s squad, which finished 15-3-0 to claim the league regular season title, is worth putting money on again.

“We’re in that cycle where we have a number of guys hitting their prime,” said Richardson. “Last year we were a very good team that just had our asses handed to us (by Maple Ridge in the semifinals). I think we just peaked a week too early.”

Most players have indicated an interest in returning, not unusual considering it is a year where the WLA hosts the Mann Cup championship.

Richardson envisions the return of Keegan Bal as an apt addition to the offence, along with continued development of two-way defensive standout Messenger.

He’s checked in with NLL star and New West native Kevin Crowley – a big part of New West’s 2017 WLA champions – but doesn’t expect any answer soon on the six-foot-four, 30-year-old’s availability. Crowley recently signed a three-year contract with the Major Lacrosse League’s Charlotte team, a pro field circuit that runs during the summertime.

“We talk to Kevin every year, checking in to see what’s up,” said Richardson. “That call has already happened and we will see.”

With head coach Rory McDade entering his second season behind the bench, familiarity is now not a question to start the season.

Add that a number of players are maintaining and developing their chemistry as members with the Warriors – including team leaders Logan Schuss, Mitch Jones and Jordan McBride – and Richardson envisions another Mann Cup push.

“That’s what wins championships – character and playing for each other,” he noted. “We’ve got good athletes and good characters, just like on the Warriors, who play for each other.”

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