Thunder land Vaesen, Pearson with top two picks

by Gary Ahuja

Langley’s Caleb Pearson was selected by his hometown Thunder in the first round, sixth overall, at the 2021 WLA Graduating Junior Player Draft on February 11.  Gary Ahuja Langley Events Centre photo

It was a risk he felt was worth taking and in the end, it paid off for the Langley Thunder.

Faced with the decision on whether to use his territorial protection pick – which would have ensured the Thunder would have Caleb Pearson on their roster – Thunder General Manager Rob Buchan rolled the dice, forego protecting a player (each Western Lacrosse Association team has the option of protecting one player) and instead selected Thomas Vaesen with a compensatory pick.

Three teams opted to protect a player – Coquitlam kept Jalen Chaster, New Westminster selected Will Malcom and Maple Ridge chose Dylan McIntosh – giving Langley first pick in the compensatory round (based on their finish in the 2019 WLA season) which they used on Vaesen. But it also meant that Burnaby, Nanaimo and Victoria could select Pearson with their compensatory picks or that he would have to last until the sixth pick of the first round, which was when Langley drafted next.

In the end, Buchan was able to draft both Vaesen and Pearson as the WLA held their 2021 Graduating Junior Draft on February 11. The draft was held virtually at Langley Events Centre.

“It’s hard to pass up a 53-goal scorer, there are not a lot of them,” rationalized Buchan, the Thunder General Manager, on his draft-day gamble. “He is going to fit in very nicely in our line-up and gives us a nice mix of youth and experience on that side right now.”

Vaesen led the BC Junior A Lacrosse League with 53 goals in 21 games back in the 2019 season. He was also fourth in the league with 100 points and had 37 goals and 66 points in 20 games back in 2018. And who knows what numbers the highly skilled left-handed forward could have accumulated had there been a 2020 BCJALL season?

But despite landing a pure goal-scoring forward who plays unselfishly, it was still a risky gamble to bypass Pearson, a player the Thunder were quite familiar with due to the fact he has played all his minor and junior lacrosse in Langley.

“It was a tough call to not just lock up Pearson in the protection round,” explained Buchan. “We looked at the order and with all the Island picks (before we picked again) we made the decision to roll the dice and hope (Caleb) would slip to us at No. 6.”

“We would have been disappointed if the gamble failed,” Buchan continued. “He’s versatile and you can put him anywhere on the floor and he will be productive.”

Buchan anticipated Pearson will likely slot into a defence/transition role but with his skill set, he’d expect Pearson to get the green light to run up the floor and contribute on offence as well.

Vaesen and Pearson were part of the nine players selected by Langley. The Thunder had a trio of second-round picks, using those on Erik Maas (ninth overall), Cal Slade (11th overall) and Aidan Ellis (14th overall).

Maas is a right-handed offensive player who brings an incredible work ethic to the floor. Maas comes from the New Westminster Junior Salmonbellies program and in 2019, won the Ab Brown Award as the team’s Most Inspirational Player.

“Erik gives you everything he has every shift. He goes to the dirty areas and pays the price to make plays and produce and we always have room on our team for guys who play like that,” Buchan said.

Slade is another player Buchan is familiar with as he also came from the Junior Thunder organization while Ellis was originally with Langley before a 2019 trade sent him to the Delta Islanders.

In the fifth round, Langley picked another Delta player, drafting Riley Merritt while the team’s sixth and seventh round picks – Joshua Bourne and Jordan Roberts – were both from the Richmond Roadrunners Junior Tier 1 program. And with their eighth-round pick, the Thunder chose Brayden Oake out of the Coquitlam Adanacs Junior Tier 1 program.

Including Pearson and Slade, nine members of the Junior Thunder heard their names called at the draft.

Dylan McIntosh was a territorial protection pick of his hometown Maple Ridge Burrards while Nick Scott was selected by the Victoria Shamrocks as compensatory pick. The Burnaby Lakers then traded for the third overall selection to draft Connor Watson.

Langley Junior Thunder's Nick Scott was a compensatory pick of the Victoria Shamrocks. Gary Ahuja Langley Events Centre photo

Riley Richardson was drafted by the New Westminster Salmonbellies in round five and a trio of Junior Thunder players went in round six with Kyle Nichols going to the Coquitlam Adanacs, Jackson Cowie to Burnaby and Joshua Brunsch to Maple Ridge. Brunsch played in 2019 with Langley in the BC Junior Tier 1 Lacrosse League.

“It was nice to see all of Junior players selected last night. I wish they could have had their last year of junior together (in 2020) but it wasn’t in the cards,” Buchan said.  “I think the draft success of the Junior Thunder shows the fine job Ryan Williams is doing with drafting for our junior program.”

“We lost out on some other Langley products like Connor Watson who is a great player and character kid, but we couldn’t keep them all so we had to prioritize our needs.”

The Burnaby Lakers drafted Connor Watson in the first round, third overall. Gary Ahuja Langley Events Centre photo