The Vancouver Giants have a new crop of young talent trying to make the team.
The youth movement has begun and the organization is excited about players like 16-year-old defenceman Zack Ostapchuck cracking the lineup.
"It's been a big jump; the guys are a lot quicker a lot stronger here and it’s just a fast-paced game, lots of structure, a harder level to compete up here," said Ostapchuck.
The new-look Giants begin the regular season on the road in Prince George on Friday. A big part of last year’s success was all-star defenceman Bowen Byram who now is playing with the Colorado Avalanche after being picked fourth overall in the NHL draft back in June in Vancouver.
The team went deep into the Western Hockey League playoffs last year. This year, the Giants are hoping to go one game further and get to the Memorial Cup.
"The experience from last year from our older guys will bleed into the young guys," Giants GM Barclay Parneta told CTV News Vancouver. “When the young guys are looking around when things get tough, there are going to be enough people in that dressing room that have gone through the experience.”
"I'm really excited," Parneta added. "This year we have a good foundation."
The foundation starts with 20-year-old defenceman Dylan Plouffe, who is entering his fifth year with the Giants. As a leader, he can pass along his experience to the younger players at training camp.
"I didn’t want to be intimidating this year, because when I was 15 there were older guys with beards. I'm going to play hockey against these guys,” Plouffe said with a laugh. “Making everyone comfortable is the most important thing and what you want as a young guy is just to be brought in as one of your own."
Playing in the Western Hockey League is a big jump for Ostapchuck, who played his midget hockey in Alberta and realizes the challenges it takes to stay in the league.
"I've never really dealt with this having to impress a bunch of coaches and having to fight for a spot on the team," Ostapchuck said. "It’s a good experience for me so far. It’s going to teach me some life lessons for sure."
Not every player makes the squad and there are hard decisions that have to be made about a player's future.
"Generally, the kids are upset at first, but then they come to the realization that they have some work to do: 'I've seen how big and strong these guys are I'm going to go back and put the time in and next year I'm going to be on this team.'" Parneta said.
As for Ostapchuck, he knows that playing in this league is a slow process and he’s determined to make an impact with the Giants.
"I like to play a 200-foot game," Ostapchuck said. "I'm really good in the defensive zone. I can still put the puck in the net when I need to."
Parneta summed up life in the WHL with this:
"The one thing about being a WHL player, you may not go on to playing pro, but what it does is it gives you a great foundation to go out into life. Whatever you apply yourself to, for your entire life, it sets up the kids for their future."
The Vancouver Giants' first home game is Sept. 27 against the Portland Winterhawks.