Lakers make a big deal of junior A draft

You might say the Burnaby Lakers were in a Rush to get a pre-draft deal done.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="400"]Nik_Bilic-J1D44927 Nik Bilic is coming home to Burnaby for the upcoming WLA season. Saskatchewan Rush photo[/caption]

In one player-for-picks deal, the Burnaby Lakers got a whole lot better at both ends of the floor with the acquisition of towering forward Mark Matthews and hometown defender/transition Nik Bilic from Langley on Monday.

The Lakers gave up their first two picks to the Langley Thunder in the Western Lacrosse Association junior A draft - the fourth and 11th overall in the opening two rounds - plus a first-rounder in 2018 for the two pro Saskatchewan Rush runners.

(Bilic) is thrilled and happy to be coming," said Burnaby club president Ed Safarik. "We have an awful lot of transition defenders but he's also a good defender with the experience to solidify that back end that needs to be anchored."

Matthews, who currently leads the Rush in scoring, has a number of personal connections with current Laker players, like current Saskatchewan teammate Robert Church and Ilija Gajic, who is also a University of Denver alumnus.

"I'm pretty confident (Matthews) will come and I think this will change our team a bit," said Safarik.

Matthews is a two-time NLL first team all-star, as well as a finalist for pro league MVP for the last two seasons.

The 6-5, 230-pound left-hander was also named the Champion's Cup MVP in 2015, while finishing first overall in playoff scoring that year.

In 2015, Matthews finished runner-up in regular season scoring with 115 points, including a second-best 53 goals scored. Last season, the 2013 NLL rookie of the year garnered 109 total points, including the second highest 69 assists.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200"]Mark_Matthews-J1D44906 Mark Matthews will bring a lot of scoring punch to the Lakers front end. Saskatchewan Rush photo[/caption]

Matthews was a standout in field lacrosse, finishing a stellar four-year collegiate career at the University of Denver with a school record 216 points and 155 goals.

Bilic is entering his sixth straight season of pro indoor lacrosse, which has included back-to-back NLL titles with the Rush. 

Selected in the fourth round of the 2010 entry draft, Bilic has tallied a total of 18 goals and 37 assists in 93 league and playoff games, while also piling up 188 minutes in penalties over the same span. Last season, Bilic was fifth in the NLL with 53 penalty minutes.

Bilic had his best season in 2014 with the Rush, finishing seventh among all defenders with 13 assists and ninth in points with 16.

Last season, the senior A Lakers expected better than its fourth-place finish, but showed its promise, taking the league champion Victoria Shamrocks to a seventh game before bowing out in a first-round playoff series.

Safarik is hopeful that with the acquisition of these two quality players interest in lacrosse in the Burnaby area will translate into larger crowds at the gate at Laker home games at the Bill Copeland Sports Centre.

"If we're to get to a Western final or to the Mann Cup it might be how we dial into the community," Safarik said.