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Catching The Torch: Josh Brook toying with opponents in the WHL, Cayden Primeau still seeking top form

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

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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, WHL), collegiate (NCAA) level.

Josh Brook’s best play last year was an assist. He skated from the blue line and misdirected three defenders with a spin-o-rama move and multiple fakes before finding one of his forwards in the slot with a precise pass. Hard to top that. But, the Habs’ second-round pick did something even more impressive this week. It was against the porous defence of the Tri-City Americans, but the sheer confidence needed to attempt such a ridiculous move still made the display memorable.

On the sequence, Brook made his way through the neutral zone and passed to a teammate to get his team across the offensive blue-line. The puck found his stick again as he skated deeper in the opposing team’s end; he cut to the net, brought the puck back in between his legs, and put it top shelf past the goalie.

We saw Ryan Poehling do something similar last year with the St. Cloud Huskies, but there is a distinction there. Poehling is a forward. Josh Brook is a defenceman. An offensively inclined one, yes, but still a player that is supposed to be at his best distributing the puck and breaking opponents plays.

It’s clear Brook as developed his offence even more going into this fourth year with the Moose Jaw Warriors. Even his first assist was great — a banked stretch pass to create a 2-on-1 early in the game.

He has 19 points in 14 games now. That puts him third in scoring on the team and second only to Ty Smith in points per game in the WHL for defencemen.

What was expected out of Brook this season was consistency. He has delivered as of yet and is starting to show signs that he has outgrown the junior league.

Cayden Primeau, G, Northeastern Huskies

Cayden Primeau’s numbers last season were the best for a U19 Hockey East goalie in the last ten years. He did extraordinary things as a freshman: stealing the starter’s spot, running with it, and carrying the Northeastern’s hockey to a first Beanpot tournament victory in 30 years.

The tournament, regrouping the four best NCAA hockey programs of the Boston area, was where Primeau made his biggest impression. Stopping great chances after great chances and finishing with a shutout against Boston College to take the Trophy.

Highlights like this one, and his 2017-18 season as a whole, put him on the USA U20 team radar for the World Junior that’s happening in less than two months. It also changed how the goalie was perceived. He might have been drafted in the seventh round but, in the span of a few months, Primeau had become one of the top prospects of the Montreal Canadiens.

As it often happens with net-minders, however, performance fluctuates as the team in front of them changes. The Northeastern Huskies lost their two top players in Dylan Sikura and Adam Gaudette — the Hobey Baker recipient — and their defence became younger with some veteran presence leaving for professional leagues. They had an influx of talent with players like Jordan Harris, but it could take time for the Huskies to become the same predictable defensive machine with a solid Primeau at it’s core.

The Habs’ goalie had some solid starts in the beginning of the season. It valued him to be named defensive player of the week in Hockey East twice, a title he also won a few more times last season.

But, in the last four weeks with Northeastern facing some strong formations in the NCAA, like Massachusetts and Boston College, Primeau struggled to keep his save percentage above 0.900. On the season, he now has a 0.909 with 2.67 goal against average. Not the numbers we have come to expect out of him.

The goalie’s best qualities are his ability find the puck through traffic with his stature and his quick movement in the net to re-position himself, two things that weren’t as optimal in the last few games. Primeau spent a little too much time in butterfly on the ice instead of recovering to his feet in between shots like he did so well last season, and lost some pucks completely in the heavy traffic in front of him when they were passed to the blue-line for point shots.

It’s expected that those numbers rise again in the next few weeks and easier match-ups. It will give a chance to Primeau to regain his confidence and his technical form.

Jordan Harris, D, Northeastern Huskies

Harris hasn’t recorded a point since the opening weekend of the Huskies. That’s fine. Production is not really what is expected out of him at this stage of his NCAA career; he is making his first few steps in a league where he should, in all likelihood, stay for many more years.

Plus, his offensive game is slowly developing. Harris isn’t yet using his skating to open passing plays in the offensive zone. But, in Saturday’s game against UMASS, he was directing precise shot on net to create rebounds for his teammates in the slot, holding the puck slightly longer to create better opportunities.

Harris is also fully committed to rushing the puck up the ice when it is open for him. He isn’t the most shifty player as he attacks the opposing defensive formation through the neutral zone, but he can find the holes in the defence and exploit them.

Late in the third period against UMASS, he started a give-and-go play that would have had him attack the net for a shot off the rush if it was not for a defenceman hooking him.

What is most impressive about Harris’ play, is the way he can use his skating and ability to protect the puck to escape the forecheck and find breakout solutions.

Watch in this sequence below as Harris uses a Mohawk pivot and one-foot pushes to protect the puck against the forecheck, turn to face the play — attracting a second forechecker on him — before reversing the puck to his open defensive partner behind the net.

This is the facet of the game that should become a big strength of Harris as he evolves. Hopefully, the Huskies breakout system will adapt to favor more controlled exits, something the Habs’ defender could help them generate in the future.

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

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 20 9 13 22
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 21 5 9 14
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 19 3 9 12
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 13 3 5 8
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL Owen Sound 19 17 16 33
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 18 5 9 14
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle Injured
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 14 1 6 7
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 14 6 13 19

NCAA season to date

Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Hockey East Wisconsin 10 1 1 2
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 8 2 6 8
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 10 3 9 12
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 10 0 1 1
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 10 1 2 3

Goalie season to date

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 6-3-1 2.67 0.909 1