The last-minute waiver-wire dump always yields a few potential diamonds in the rough as NHL clubs attempt to sneak some players into the AHL for safekeeping to start the regular season. The big prize from Sunday’s waiver stampede was Alex Barré-Boulet, who ended up being selected by the Seattle Kraken, but there were a few other pieces worth claiming.
The Montreal Canadiens nabbed one of them in former Toronto Maple Leafs centre Adam Brooks.
Brooks was a 2016 fourth-round pick by the Leafs after a 120-point WHL season. He struggled in his first year of professional hockey with the Toronto Marlies with just 19 points in 57 games, but he soon found his feet while becoming one of the AHL team’s most reliable forwards. His next two years were far better, with 40 points in 61 games, followed up by 20 points in 29 the following year. Even last year he put forth a strong effort with 13 points in 17 games and earning himself 11 games with the Leafs, where he scored four goals and added one assist.
It’s clear that he is a more-than-competent hand at the AHL level, and could easily slot in on the top line of the Laval Rocket right now and it would be a seamless add for Jean-Francois Houle. However, Adam Brooks was not claimed to be a Laval Rocket player — and probably wouldn’t get there anyway if Montreal put him on waivers again.
So, where in the Habs’ lineup does he fit?
Based on his usage in Toronto last season, he was utilized on the fourth line with his most common linemates being greybeards Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza. While he won’t find that level of veteran in Montreal, he will more than likely find himself flanked by Artturi Lehkonen, plus any combination of Mathieu Perreault, Ryan Poehling, and Cédric Paquette. Given his penchant for offensive contributions, Brooks isn’t likely to be out there just to eat up only defensive-zone starts.
That versatility will serve him well. He has a nose for the front of the net, and is unafraid to take on challengers in the dirty areas despite being just 5’10”. He’s proven to be adept at getting his stick on shots from the blue line, resulting in plenty of deflection goals and high-danger scoring chances. That’s a boon for a team like the Canadiens who have sometimes made it too easy on opposing goalies by having minimal traffic in front of the net. Given his talents and some of the wingers likely to be slotting in, it isn’t unreasonable to expect to see the fourth line contribute some more offence compared to previous years.
His ability to make plays happen isn’t just limited to the net-front area. He has the smarts and know-how to leverage his body position to win battles along the boards, even against larger opponents. He also remains responsible when on the ice, tracking back well when required, and has no problem being one of the guys thrown on the ice to close out games in tough spots.
He was a trusted option for Sheldon Keefe when he was coaching the Marlies, and that didn’t change even when Keefe was promoted up to the NHL. You know exactly what you’re getting from Brooks on any given night, and reliability is all you can truly ask for when it comes to guys playing in your bottom six.
Before Habs fans get too excited, he is the kind of guy who is a jack of all trades, master of none, and that has an impact on his overall ceiling. He isn’t going to suddenly blossom into a superstar or develop any kind of elite skill at 25 years of age. He’s going to make smart plays, but likely not many highlight-reel plays.
He is a nice, complementary piece for the Canadiens to add. He’s a steady hand who brings something different from Paquette or Perreault. He provides Dominique Ducharme flexibility as well, allowing the Habs coach to tailor his bottom six on any given night to any type of game plan they want to implement. Perhaps just as well, Brooks’s addition doesn’t allow any of the current fourth-line players to be complacent in their roles; internal competition tends to bring out the best in players.
All in all, it’s a no-risk waiver claim by the Montreal Canadiens. He isn’t likely to be a negative on the ice on any given night, and Canadiens didn’t have to expose any of their own players to waivers to get him. If things don’t work out they can always attempt to send him down to the AHL and add another quality player to an already deep Laval Rocket team.