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Catching The Torch: Josh Brook is the WHL’s most productive defenceman

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

Marc Smith/DiscoverMooseJaw

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.

It might be his off-season training, or his impressive training camp with the Montreal Canadiens. Maybe it is the C being sewn onto his jersey But one thing is for sure: Josh Brook seems to have arrived to fulfill expectations in this 2018-19 season.

At the beginning of this year, the objective for Josh Brook was to be a consistent producer for the Moose Jaw Warriors; what was previously his downfall. He needed to prove that he could be a driving force night in and night out, using this last year in Junior as a springboard to professional hockey.

Well, Brook is not only doing that, but he is also leading all blue-liners in the WHL in points per game right now with 1.53. And he is doing this playing for an edition of the Warriors that is, on paper, weaker offensively than last year’s.

It’s expected that this point pace slows down as there are not many defenders who have scored above 1.20 points per game in the WHL in the past five years — some have, like Kale Clague, Josh Morrissey, Derrick Pouliot, David Quenneville, Connor Hobbs, and Travis Sanheim. Plus, high production doesn’t always equal immediate NHL success either, the above group of players being a good indication of that.

Yet Brook’s on-ice play, the way he leads the Warriors with an improved transition game and can be relied on for his overall solid defensive play, is encouraging, even when not looking at the numbers he puts up.

This week, Brook’s best game was likely on Saturday. Moose Jaw have had quite a few comeback wins in their season, and this performance on national television was another one of those. The Warriors couldn’t solve the Lethbridge Hurricanes goalie until the third period, and it took a misstep from the netminder for Brook to find an opening and shoot the puck home from the point on the power play.

It was an opportunistic goal, but he had earned it. Brook helped draw the penalty a minute prior by finding a streaking Justin Almeida with a precise pass. Almeida had been forgotten at the blue line by both of the Hurricanes’ defencemen, and escaped on a breakaway, leading to him being hooked.

Josh Brook wears #2 with the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Moose Jaw scored again soon afterward, and, with their goalie leaving for an extra attacker with a couple of minutes to go, the team tied the game to force overtime.

The Habs defenceman played long minutes in that extra period. He was on the ice at the first faceoff — as he represents the biggest offensive threat from the back end — and after a long shift and a timeout, was put back on to defend a 4-on-3.

On the penalty kill, when the puck was intercepted and slid to him, Brook could have chosen to get rid of it, like any other tired defenceman would do in this situation. Instead, the Habs prospect decided to carry it out of his zone, skating across the defensive blue line.

He was immediately met with the backtracking opposition closing on him, but was not to be stopped. He dangled his way through, crossed the red line, then the blue line, entered the offensive zone, and with a cut to the middle, tried to beat the Hurricanes’ goalie by using the opposing defender as a screen.

Brook’s intentions when he got possession were never to forfeit control of the puck. Knowing full well that any goal would end it, he continued to generate offence even down a man, and even if he had to do the work all by himself.

It speaks to his great confidence — something that was always present to an extent in the defenceman’s play in previous years — but has been pushed to another level this season. Even the moves he pulls off routinely at the offensive blue line seem more effective.

Watch how he has the defender overshoot in the sequence below. Stopping abruptly, dropping his right knee into his acceleration, Brook creates separation and a lane for yet another shot-pass. It’s a trademark play; the other team is aware of it, but he has improved on the move through the years. It keeps working.

Brett Stapley, C, Denver Pioneers

Stapley has carried his point-per-game run over to this week. He recorded an assist in each of Denver’s weekend games and remains one of the team’s top point-producers.

As said in a previous edition of Catching The Torch, a part of the seventh-rounder’s contribution to the scoresheet can be chalked up to his supporting cast. That being said, Stapley, to his credit, works very well with the other Pioneers, helping fuel the well-oiled machine that is the offence of Denver.

The goal that sealed the win for them on Friday was another example of the team’s chemistry. Stapley was the tac in a beautiful tic-tac-toe play that resulted in a confused and out-of-position Hayden Hawkey — ex-Habs prospect and goalie for the Providence Friars — who couldn’t do much against the crisp execution of Stapley’s line.

Brett Stapley wears #7 with the Denver Pioneers.

The Denver Pioneers have this week off. They only play again on December 7. It will give time to Stapley to reflect on a surprising, but exciting, debut to the season.

Jordan Harris, D / Cayden Primeau, G

After recording three points in the opening weekend, Harris didn’t write his name on the scoresheet in nine straight games. Not that it mattered much, as points are simply a bonus for the freshman defenceman of the Northeastern Huskies.

But it’s always encouraging to be rewarded for efforts, and it is exactly what happened in the Huskies'lone game this weekend.

On his first assist, Harris attempted to rim the puck around to his winger on the other side of the offensive zone, but as if it had a mind of its own (and was rooting for a Northeastern win), the puck bounced weirdly off of the corner of the zone and right to the front of the net to be put in a deserted cage. The opposing goalie had left to stop the rimmed puck behind his net, a position from which he helplessly saw the events unfold.

On his second assist, Harris caught the puck off of a faceoff and directed it toward the net. His shot never really left the ice, but was tipped in by a well-placed teammate in front.

Overall, Harris continues to be a stronger presence away from the puck and in transition than in the offensive zone. This seems to be where his strengths lie for now, and it is also what is asked out of him by the coaching staff; he doesn’t get power-play time. He might not be a great point-producer this season, but his smooth skating will serve to shut down the opposing rushes and get the puck circulating the other way quickly for Northeastern.

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 25 11 15 26
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 26 6 9 15
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 24 5 11 16
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 19 7 7 14
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL Owen Sound 25 19 20 39
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 25 6 9 15
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle Injured
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 18 1 7 8
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 19 8 21 29

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 14 2 2 4
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 12 3 9 12
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 12 3 10 13
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 12 0 2 2
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 12 1 4 5

Cayden Primeau’s season to date

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 8-3-1 2.48 0.915 2