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Catching The Torch: Josh Brook’s power-play prowess, Jack Gorniak’s quickness

Stats, highlights, and updates on the Montreal Canadiens prospects from the past week.

Keith Hershmiller/Regina Pats

Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs prospects playing at the junior (OHL, QMJHL, WHL) and collegiate level (USHL, NCAA).

Josh Brook’s game on Saturday ended abruptly. He was ejected for a crosscheck that sent Ethan McIndoe of the Spokane Chief to the boards, with his shoulder and head likely making the first contact.

It was a heated contest with some physical exchanges between the two teams before this event, but such a shove on a vulnerable opponent is uncharacteristic of the defenceman’s play. Brook can show his strength and doesn’t hesitate to use his stick with two hands in the defensive zone to box out opponents in front of the net or along the boards, but he doesn’t have the track record to suggest his intentions were to hurt anyone on the play.

At the time of this writing, no further discipline has been given to Brook.

This was a dissonant note on an otherwise very good weekend for the defenceman. His power-play work was stellar once again. Moose Jaw has more than a few set plays with a man advantage, but Brook is at the centre of them all.

On the half-wall, he seems to have perfected a catch-and-release motion on cross-ice passes that allows him to get puck on and off his stick very quickly. He receives the pass during a weight transfer and fires it back at the net with force.

Usually the best shooters in that spot are forwards, and those forwards are more often than not on their off-side to get the advantage of better angles and quicker releases, but Brook makes it work. He scored his goal on Friday with this catch-and-release shot and tried to repeat the same pattern on Saturday, but a well-timed slide from the goalie countered it.

The Warriors use two right-handed defencemen at the point on their power play: Jett Woo and Brook. The fact that they don’t employ four forwards in a 1-3-1 formation, instead letting Brook slide down from the point to surprise the opposing defence, seems to keep those shooting occasions open for him.

Josh Brook offensive-zone highlights from this weekend. He wears #2 for the Moose Jaw Warriors (in white in the first game, then in black in the second.)

Those kind of plays are not exclusive to Brook either as Woo can do the same thing on his side of the ice. Brook found him with a stretch pass on an offensive-zone faceoff when his defence partner jumped from his blue-line spot to get to the far circle.

Besides his vision, the Habs prospect’s footwork is another reason why he has success in the offensive zone. He is constantly in motion, receiving the puck in lateral movement and using abrupt changes of direction to create space for himself and others.

Brook does great work against defending wingers coming at him. He often hides his intentions very well, his first move rarely revealing what he really intends to do with the puck. Those little stops and starts and the great range he can cover with his cross-overs also means he is rarely shooting at shin pads when he has the puck at the point, but can get his wristers through the first line of defence quite easily.

Despite missing a game and half of the third period of his last outing because of his misconduct, Brook is third in team scoring with 11 points. With that mark, he has participated in 44% of his team’s goals, fueling a large part of the team’s offence from the blue line.

Seven games in, Brook has already surpassed his goal total from last season. He should have no problem matching and surpassing his career high of eight with his recent pace and outstanding offensive play.

He was also a heavy contributor to his team’s transitions against the Wheat Kings and the Chiefs this weekend, giving his team opportunities to get out of their end cleanly even against heavy forechecking pressure, meaning more time on the attack for the Habs’ future blue-liner.

Ryan Poehling #11, C, St. Cloud Huskies

Poehling and the St. Cloud State Huskies traveled all the way to Alaska to face Nikolas Koberstein and the Nanooks in back-to-back games. The Huskies, who won the early-season matchup last year as well, came out of the weekend with two wins: 3-2 and 6-2.

The Habs’ centre prospect recorded two assists this weekend. He had originally been credited with three, but one was taken away upon review after the game, as sometimes happens in the NCAA. It still represents a good start for him as he looks to improve once again on his offensive totals in his junior year.

His passing ability was what earned him those points, as is usually the case with Poehling. His second assist was his most impressive. He got around a defender on the wall after retrieving the puck and skated it to the goal line, where he made a saucer pass to his linemate right in front of the net for the goal.

Highlights from Ryan Poehling’s weekend. He wears #11 with the St. Cloud State Huskies.

He also had another interesting sequence in the offensive zone that didn’t result in a point: a give-and-go play where he showed some quickness to separate from his check and get a shot from the slot area. It was stopped by the goalie and the Huskies missed an open net on the rebound.

Brett Stapley, C, Denver Pioneers

Poehling might have had a good weekend, but the Habs’ seventh-round pick in June has him beat in the first pair of games of the season in the NCAA. Brett Stapley scored a goal and added two assists on Saturday for three points. The Pioneers crushed Alabama-Hunstville 6-0 in a game that featured plenty of offensive opportunities for them.

Stapley capitalized on his moments. His work on the second power-play unit has been good. He isn’t the most dynamic forward, but situated on the half-wall, he can make use of his saucer-pass ability and set up his teammates for one-timers.

Stapley is #7 in white.

His second assist on Saturday came on a two-on-one with his ex-teammate from the Vernon Vipers in the BCHL, Liam Finlay, who played with Stapley in 2015-16.

Jack Gorniak, LW, University of Wiconsin Badgers

Gorniak’s quickness more than holds up its dominant quality against NCAA opponents. The Habs’ fourth-rounder was very annoying away from the puck in his first game, applying constant pressure when the opposition had possession.

He recorded his first point on a play where he, ironically, had to slow down to wait for his linemates in a rush attack. His patience was rewarded, however, as he forced the defender to make the first move and managed to slide the puck over to a trailing forward for the goal.

Jack Gorniak wears #11 (in red) with the Badgers.

Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.

NCAA season to date

Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak LW Hockey East Wisconsin 2 0 1 1
Brett Stapley C WCHA Denver 2 1 2 3
Ryan Poehling C NCHC St. Cloud State 2 0 2 2
Nikolas Koberstein RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 2 0 0 0
Jordan Harris LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 1 2 3

CHL season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Joël Teasdale FA LW QMJHL Blainville-Boisbriand 10 3 7 10
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 10 4 4 8
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 9 1 3 4
Alan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 8 3 5 8
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL Owen Sound 8 5 6 11
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 12 5 6 11
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle Injured
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 7 0 4 4
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 7 4 7 11

Goalie season to date

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 2-0-0 1.00 0.961 1