AFL spearhead Jack Gunston has challenged Hawthorn's next generation to step up and fill the likely season-long void left by Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell.
The Hawks' premiership aspirations were dealt a devastating blow as Mitchell suffered a fractured tibia and fibula in his left leg in a tackling drill on Friday at training.
Gunston admitted the prolific ball-getter, who averaged 35 possessions and eight clearances last season, would be sorely missed but insisted the club had prepared well to cope without him.
"It's pretty hard to replace a Brownlow medallist and two-time best and fairest," the 27-year-old forward said on Monday.
"The beauty of the last couple of years is we've had the (James) Worpals, the James Cousins, the Dan Howes that have been able to get exposure at AFL footy and get continual games into their bodies.
"I guess a spot opens up now for them and it's a good opportunity for them to grab that with both hands. We've got a lot of depth still on our list that can come in and fill those roles."
But the sidelined 111-gamer, having joined Hawthorn from Sydney after the 2016 season, will still have a part to play as the Hawks attempt to atone for last year's straight-sets finals exit.
"I'm sure he'll be in (assistant coach) Sam Mitchell's pocket with the midfielders, and probably doing a little bit of coaching on the side," Gunston said.
"He's such a quality football brain that you don't want him ... just sitting in rehab and not helping out the boys."
But it's not just the new breed who'll fancy their chances of filling Mitchell's midfield boots, with Greater Western Sydney recruit Tom Scully's fitness on the up.
Long-term concerns about his injured ankle meant the Hawks secured the ex-Giant and Demon for a song at last year's AFL trade window.
Gunston said he was buoyed at the sight of reinforcements on the way as Scully and premiership defender Grant Birchall, who had another knee setback in December, both carried out running drills.
"They're both feeling better," said Gunston, who was on light duties at the session due to a slight niggle.
"Hopefully, in the next week or two, they keep ramping it up and, come February, they're feeling good."