Low on experience but high on opportunities.
That pretty much sums up the Kamloops Blazers on the eve of the WHL regular season.
"There's a ton of opportunities - that's how we're going to approach every game, too," said head coach Dave Hunchak, who is preparing for his first season as head coach of the Blazers after two seasons as the team's associate coach.
Kamloops is scheduled to open the regular season tonight, 7 o'clock, against the Kelowna Rockets at Interior Savings Centre. The teams also will meet Saturday in Kelowna.
This is not the same Blazers' team that lost in the Western Conference final in April - far from it.
Gone from that team are nine key players, including its starting goaltender, three top-four defencemen and five top-six forwards. A decent core remains, but there are a lot of holes to fill - and a lot of players willing to do so.
"There's a lot of chances for me to step up," said sophomore forward Aaron Macklin, 18. "I'm hoping to take advantage of that and go with it."
Despite trading starter Cole Cheveldave to the Prince Albert Raiders in the offseason, the Blazers' goaltending situation appears stable, even if their two 19-year-old goalies have appeared in just 62 career games combined. Taran Kozun will get the start tonight, with Bolton Pouliot to serve as backup.
Pouliot is 8-18-4 in 40 career games with the Red Deer Rebels, who shipped the Calgary native west earlier this month. Kozun, a native of Nipawin, Sask., is 12-5-3 with the Blazers, including an 11-4-3 mark in 2012-13.
The players in front of the goalies . . . well, they're a little younger.
The defence corps lost Joel Edmundson and Marek Hrbas, who are playing professionally, and Tyler Hansen, who is on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
What's remaining are seven defencemen, but only two who have appeared in more than 53 career games. Sam Grist, 20, will lead the way, with Landon Cross, 19, also providing veteran leadership.
Behind them is Swiss rookie Edson Harlacher, along with sophomores Jordan Thomson, Ryan Rehill and Joshua Connolly, not to mention Connor Clouston, who got into four games in 2012-13.
"Last year, I learned a lot from a guy like Joel Edmundson," Thomson said. "This year, I have a chance to step up there and maybe get some power-play and penalty-kill time and be a big contributor."
Thomson, the Blazers' first-round pick (fourth overall) in the 2011 bantam draft, has an opportunity to make an impact. In his first season, the native of Wawanesa, Man., got into 47 games, scoring two goals and assisting on 12 others.
He should get the opportunity to play in all situations, and he feels ready for an increase in playing time.
"You've got to be smart and know when to jump up in the rush - but you have to take care of your own end first," said the 17-year-old Thomson. "That's one thing I'm really focusing on this season.
"I trained a lot with (Edmundson) and Landon Cross this summer and it's good to be around those guys. . . . I'm hoping to put what I learned from them to good use."
Opportunities abound up front, with the team having lost graduating players Brendan Ranford, Dylan Willick and Kale Kessy. Also, the team isn't holding out much hope of getting back 20-year-olds Colin Smith and JC Lipon, who are expected to play in the AHL.
But the Blazers' top two lines have some experience. Tim Bozon, now in his third season, has been practising alongside new captain Matt Needham and Cole Ully, both of whom also are going into their third seasons.
Aspen Sterzer, another third-year man, has been centring the second line beside 19-year-old Chase Souto and 20-year-old Tyson Ness, whom the Blazers picked up from Red Deer on Tuesday.
After the top two lines, and 20-year-old Joe Kornelsen and 19-year-old Tristan Sieben, the experience level drops off.
Macklin played in 62 games last season, and Mitch Friesen got into 46 - but neither winger played what would be considered quality minutes. Mitch Lipon, Nick Chyzowski and Devin Oakes all got into a few games in 2012-13, but got little more than a taste of the WHL.
The other three forwards - Eric Krienke, Nathan Looysen and Jesse Shynkaruk - have yet to play in a regular-season game.
"Last season, we had a lot of older guys, a lot more experience up front," said Macklin, who has been practising on a line with Kornelsen and Sieben. "This season, we're younger and I think there are a lot of guys who can work their way up throughout the season."
There could be a lot of growing pains for the Blazers this season, and Hunchak and associate coach Mark Ferner will need a lot of patience in teaching the young players how to compete at a WHL level.
But a lack of experience doesn't always mean a lack of success. The Blazers are hoping it doesn't, anyway.
"We're confident," Thomson said. "Yeah, we have a young team, but I don't see that as a disadvantage."