Melbourne wunderkind Jacob van Rooyen has been a shining light among this year's dazzling crop of breakthrough talent, with the Demons forward likely paying thanks to the club's patience throughout his first season before he was unleashed on the league earlier this year.

The Wembley Downs junior had staked his claim for a debut on multiple occasions through his 2022 rookie campaign to mount pressure on Simon Goodwin and Melbourne's selection committee to go against his plans of blooding the young swingman too early into his development.

The Demons stayed true to their word and left van Rooyen to ply his trade at VFL level for the entirety of last season, with the bustling attacker enjoying a tremendous maiden campaign in the state league competition to boot 36 goals in 18 appearances on the way to helping Casey clinch the premiership.

Despite cries from the Melbourne faithful that their flashy new first-round pick should've been injected into the senior side during the home and away season, van Rooyen's year-long stint in the reserves has given them the fortune of having the Western Australian fit, firing and fearless against the AFL's best backmen.

The 20-year-old piled on eight kilograms in mass between arriving at the Demons and the start of this season, with van Rooyen able to mould himself into a shape that was ready to have an instant impact come his AFL debut.

Since stepping onto the MCG in Round 3 against Sydney for his first game, the kid known as 'Roo' has booted 17 goals from 12 games - kicking at least one goal in each of his dozen games under Goodwin.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 10: Jacob Van Rooyen of WA Gold in action during the Western Australia AFL Draft All Stars game between WA Black and WA Gold at Medibank Oval on October 10, 2020 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

The season-long stint in the VFL has seen the Claremont product surpass premiership figures Ben Brown and Tom McDonald in the pecking order at Casey Fields, with the highly-rated Western Australian defender flexing his value as a swingman.

van Rooyen was touted as arguably the best versatile tall in his draft class alongside Melbourne's Next Generation Academy graduate Mac Andrew - who would land at the Suns at Pick 5 - thanks to his standout National Championships appearance for Western Australia against South Australia, where he held down the fort in defence before being swung forward to steer his side to a win.

The young Demon's aerial dominance, exciting potential, key-position flexibility and development through the VFL draw similar comparisons to that of GWS rookie Max Gruzewski, who traded Victoria for Sydney's west last November as the first selection on night two of the 2022 National Draft.

Much like van Rooyen, Gruzewski has been required to bide his time in the reserves no matter the heights he's reached at VFL level, with the teenager helping lead the Giants' attacking third alongside Wade Derksen in 2023.

The pair have combined for 45 goals from GWS's 11 games so far this season, with Gruzewski having a hand in 21 of those majors to sit among the top 10 goalkickers in the competition in what has been a stellar first season for the Surrey Park native against mature defenders.

The athletic and high-flying Gruzewski has been named in the goalkicker's column in nine of his 11 appearances under coach Wayne Cripps - a former assistant at the Oakleigh Chargers where Gruzewski built his case as a top 25 prospect.

GWS Giants' Max Gruzewski (Image: GWS Giants Twitter)

Cripps has managed to rely on the 18-year-old to be a constant threat in attack this year that can also be swung into defence when required, with his senior coach, Adam Kingsley, delighted with the progress Gruzewski has made after requiring knee surgery in the pre-season.

Behind the likes of Jesse Hogan, Jake Riccardi, Harry Himmelberg, and No.1 pick Aaron Cadman, Gruzewski has been patient in the VFL, much like van Rooyen of yesteryear.

"For any young key forward that's probably their pathway, learn their craft in the VFL and build a body so that they can compete against the players they're going to play at AFL level, particularly men fully grown," Kingsley said.

"(Key forward) is the hardest position to play as a young player, and then (he'll) get his opportunity at some point.

"Max, we've really been happy with his development. He's been terrific in the VFL, finishing his work but creating goals through his contest and his competitiveness, buying into defence, looking to support the defence which is nice.

"As we know with Max in his Under-18s year he's able to play at both ends of the ground. We see him not only as a key forward but he could fill a key back role if we need it.

"We've got a little bit of depth in our key forward areas too with Wade Derksen performing quite well at VFL level also, alongside Aaron Cadman, Riccardi, Hogan. There's a bit of queue up for that spot.

"(Max) will keep improving, developing his game at VFL level and then we'll make a decision on where we see him best fitting our team."

When Gruzewski joined the Giants he stood two centimetres shy of where van Rooyen stopped the tape when he was drafted and was also two kilograms lighter in comparison, built at 192cm and 86kg.

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van Rooyen's development into a 96kg key forward is sure to present as a case study for the Giants youngster, who will be looking to utilise his current season in the VFL as a springboard for a breakout 2024 campaign.

GWS will be holding similar hopes for their youngster given their current list demographic and rebuild, where they'll continue to lean on their emerging project players before making a push toward premiership contention under Kingsley.

In the chance Gruzewski can match the exploits van Rooyen has brought in his second season, the Giants might just have their successor to free agent Harry Himmelberg, who is no certainty to be at the club next year.

Riccardi has emerged as a leading option in Kingsley's attack but also finds himself off-contract and in the eye of rival suitors, with a heavy reliance potentially being placed on the likes of Cadman and Gruzewski for the long haul.