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 (QMJHL, OHL, WHL) and collegiate (USHL, NCAA) level.
If it feels like we are talking about Josh Brook every week, it’s because we are. There is just no other way around it: Brook is having a dominant start to the season. It fills many following the development of the young defender with a lot of hope for the back end of the Montreal Canadiens in a few years.
Last season, the Warriors’ blue-liner also had a great start. After returning from his wrist injury, he was a producing at a point-per-game pace in his first 16 games. As we know, the rest of his season was not exactly the same story, even if it featured the occasional glimpse into Brook’s offensive potential.
The 2018-19 campaign has barely debuted in Moose Jaw, and we can’t judge Brook on his consistency yet, but there is a different aura around what he is accomplishing every night. The defencemen is not picking up assists by starting uncontested breakouts from his zone or passively distributing the puck to his open forwards in the offensive zone; he is truly recognizing opportunities and creating offence.
Brook is the general behind the Warriors’ offence, and he seems to be utilizing his toolkit to the full extent, having his team put the puck in the net as often as possible.
In his post-game interview on Friday night, when the reporter asked him how he pulled off his overtime goal to give the Warriors their second win of the season, Brook responded:
‘‘I just saw who was the forward I was up against, so I turned backwards. I knew I could probably get a step on him, and maybe cut to the net. It happened, and I saw the five-hole open; I put it there.’’
Brook is turning into a veteran in the WHL, and with the experience, he seems to know better what he can get away with, and against whom.
This was not the first occasion the Habs’ second-rounder attempted a one-man rush like this for a goal. The last one was in last year’s playoffs. He scored his lone goal in the same way, that time to get his team into overtime with a minute remaining in Game 3 against the Prince Albert Raiders. When he feels fully in control, which seems to always be the case right now, the defenceman can rise to the occasion.
His goal on Friday was in a regular season game, but it’s a contest the Warriors really wanted to win. The Wheat Kings beat them at home to start the season (Brook scored the only two goals for his team then) and were undefeated heading into the game. Taking it to overtime was then a sweet revenge for the defenceman, who again participated in each of his team’s three goals.
There are reasons to be excited about Brook, especially if he can keep this up for the whole season. He obviously doesn’t need to produce at a 1.6-points-per-game pace to show his worth, but needs to continue creating in the same way, like he is able to.
Plus, his play away from the puck has been relatively good too since the start of the season. He isn’t up to the defensive level of Jett Woo, his right-handed partner who was just drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, but he can hold his own against the top competition he faces in the WHL.
What he really needs to give another boost to his already great showing is consistently good decision-making with the puck in his own end. Right now it’s a work in progress, with the defencemen alternating between too aggressive when he challenges multiple forecheckers, and too simple when he rims the puck to his covered wingers with better plays open. That said, there are improvements in that aspect of the game compared to last season.
Overall, there’s some very good news from the Western Hockey League, where Cole Fonstad also keeps scoring. The forward is now up to 10 points in nine games, including five goals.
Samuel Houde, C, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
A handful of Habs prospects are having good starts to the season, but there is no bigger surprise than Samuel Houde.
I didn’t watch the prospect as much as others last season, and he wasn’t on my radar when it came to the 2018 draft, his low point total of 32 in 54 games being a factor in that. When I did get around to seeing some of his games after the Habs selected him, it was clear he was a very raw prospect. The hands were there, but not much followed.
This year, Houde started the season with a bang. He comes out of his first seven game with a point-per-game mark, and with the potential for more.
Maybe I misjudged him last season, or maybe he put in the work this summer, but Houde is a different player. He has the same great handling ability, but he has been much more successful in beating defenders and creating chances for himself and others with it. And it is far from the only element in his game.
He scored four goals wiring pucks cleanly past goalies and improved his shots per game from a very low 1.83 last year to 2.71 so far this year, which should help him continue to score his fair share of goals in the future.
Houde also seems like a faster player, and has been really effective at rushing the puck up for his team, which fuels Chicoutimi’s offensive game. He is elusive as he crosses the opposing blue line and able to quickly adjust against pokechecks, modelling his game to Jonathan Drouin’s, the player he wants to become.
Against Sherbrooke, Houde made controlled zone entries happen in a lot of different ways: using his teammates, recognizing the speed difference he had versus defenders and beating them wide, dangling through the defence, or slowing down right after skating in the zone to have the defence overshoot, and giving himself an opportunity to cut to the middle to create scoring chances. When his entries failed, Houde was skating hard the other way to get the puck back to try again.
While he isn’t a defensive player at heart, Houde has showcased that he can have a good two-way game. He positions himself well and recognizes his assignments, and has been a generally reliable centre for his team since the beginning of the season.
As in the case of Josh Brook, this is just a start, but it is a hopeful one.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates
CHL weekly performance
|Nick Suzuki||2017||C/RW||OHL||Owen Sound||3||0||4||4|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Prince Albert||4||2||0||2|
|Josh Brook||2017||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||2||1||3||4|
CHL season to date
|Nick Suzuki||2017||C/RW||OHL||Owen Sound||5||3||4||7|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Prince Albert||9||5||5||10|
|Josh Brook||2017||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||5||3||5||8|