With just one player from last year's top-six forwards set to return in 2018-19, the Moose Jaw Warriors have some holes to fill. For returning players, that means an opportunity for a bigger role this season.
The Warriors are preparing to open their 2018 training camp on Thursday at Mosaic Place. When the main camp opens on the weekend, the battle for an increased role will begin.
"There's a lot of guys leaving, and a lot of guys that were big for our team, so there's going to be opportunity and I'm just going to try my best to do what I need to do to get some more ice time," said 18-year-old forward Tate Popple, who's heading into his second full season with the Warriors.
The run to the regular season title and a second-round berth in the playoffs provided some good experience for the younger players that will be looking to step into larger roles this season.
Popple posted six goals and 22 points in 71 games last season. He said he was able to watch and learn from some talented players about what it takes to be successful at this level.
"There was some good talent here, more than half of them had signed NHL contracts, so I was able to learn everything from them," he said.
Brecon Wood has bided his time with the Warriors over the past few seasons, dressing in 84 regular season games since making the team as a 16-year-old. Now entering his 18-year-old season and with many open spots, Wood feels he's ready to take the next step.
"It's a new year, there are lots of opportunities here this year, so it's exciting to be a guy that's needed to step up," said Wood.
"I've got my sights set to earn a spot somewhere in the top six, so obviously it's going to be a competitive camp and a competitive first few weeks, but it's exciting."
He hasn't been able to get into the lineup as much as he wanted over the past two seasons, but Wood used that experience as a positive in an effort to improve his game.
"The last two years, we've been solid up front, so watching guys like (Brett) Howden, (Jayden) Halbgewachs and (Tanner) Jeannot and just watching them around the rink and how they play, everything they do, they do it hard, so definitely learned a lot in that aspect," said Wood. "You pick up little things that they do out there and notice that you start to do them."
Tyler Smithies, 18, is entering his second season with the Warriors. He registered a goal and five points in 36 games last season.
Making the jump to the Western Hockey League was a challenge for Smithies, but with a season under his belt, he feels like he's prepared to show the coaches that he can help fill the holes in the forward group.
"Last year went good, it was just about getting my feet underneath me and this upcoming season, I'm looking to be more of an impact player up front," said Smithies.
After experience the WHL, Smithies said he went into the summer with a game plan and feels like he's prepared for this season. "I was skating lots, working out lots, I gained 20 pounds this summer, so I just want to be able to lay the body a bit more," said Smithies. "In the corners, you don't want to lose those battles when you're going up against a guy that's bigger than, you want to have the confidence and weight to go up against him.
"I've just got to keep working hard and putting the grind on."
The players arrive in the Friendly City on Wednesday and training camp kicks into high gear on Thursday. Fitness testing starts things off in the morning and then rookie camp practices go at 2, 3 and 4 p.m. The first scrimmage of camp is Thursday night at 7 p.m.
Main camp practices start on Friday and they scrimmage throughout the weekend with the annual Black and White Intrasquad Game on Sunday at 4 p.m.