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Catching The Torch: Josh Brook becoming a better puck-mover for Moose Jaw

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

Robert Murray/WHL

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 (NCAA) level.

Moving the puck was the most disappointing aspect of Josh Brook’s play last year. Not that he was bad with it in his own zone, but just that he wasn’t utilizing his tools — his skating ability, his size, and his above-average stickhandling for a defenceman — enough to orchestrate fluid controlled exits for the Moose Jaw Warriors as often as he could.

He started the year fine in that department, but it degraded in the second half, to the point where it felt like Brook was lost on breakouts. He appeared to be unable to see his teammates at times, fluctuating between overdoing things like trying to dangle through a couple of forecheckers, and oversimplifying by rimming pucks to covered wingers with better plays open and space to execute.

In his great debut to the 2018-19 season, Brook produced offensively continuously, but once again didn’t impress as much with possession in his own zone.

It has gotten better. Now the defenceman is not only acting as a one-man breakout by skating the puck out — a staple of his play since the start — but also showing an ability to quickly find outlets for controlled exits under pressure, which was often missing from his game.

It is rare to have defencemen rush out with possession in the NHL. It happened a lot more in other eras. Now, the game is all about rapid transitions through clean and precise passing, with the most common breakout requiring at least two teammates to set up a third one to accelerate out of the zone.

In this regard, it becomes increasingly important for Junior defencemen to be able to identify forechecking pressure, passing options, and do all of that very quickly. Those abilities are what speeds up the game and creates offence.

A defenceman checking his shoulder a couple of times while retrieving the puck, keeping it on his forehand, and sliding it over in a second to a forward circling up isn’t highlight worthy, but does involve skill and composure. Someone who can do that consistently will better translate as a puck-mover in the NHL than another blue-liner who is consistently attempting to rush the puck, only having it work half the time.

All that is to say that it’s a good thing that Brook is diversifying the way he springs his attack. He remains true to his identity, but seems to operate closer to the ‘less is more’ philosophy recently.

Take a look at a few breakout sequences from the first game of a head-to-head between the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Saskatoon Blades last week. Brook displays some good elements on the breakouts, even if there are still things for him to work on, notably a sense of urgency and a greater respect for the opposing forecheck.

The Habs prospect was often facing Kirby Dach’s line, and the top prospect for the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft, who’s quite good at causing turnovers, gave Brook some trouble on a couple of sequences.

Josh Brook wears #2 with the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Despite needing to see some improvements, Brook is far and away the best puck-mover on the Moose Jaw Warriors. Below is a chart showing the ability of Warriors blue-liners to exit the zone under pressure, courtesy of Mitch Brown’s CHL tracking project.

From Mitch Brown’s CHL tracking data.

He attempts controlled exits — a breakout where the puck crosses the defensive blue-line in possession of the team — a majority of the time, even when he needs to evade the forecheck to do so. He is rather effective in doing it, having his team successfully possess the puck through the neutral zone after breakouts he orchestrates more than almost anyone else on the team.

Brook retrieving the puck in the defensive zone is then usually a net positive for the Warriors. The fact that he usually plays against the top forwards in the WHL can’t be forgotten in this comparison.

When he is not springing the attack, Brook is one of the main pieces of it at the other end of the ice. Here is a collection of the fun plays the defencemen, acting as quarterback, pulled off this week.

As usual, there is the display of his edge-work-intensive, stop-and-start style that enables him to open space for shots on net, but also to create scoring chances for his teammates. He once again showcased how he can challenge defenders, attracting coverage to himself to open passing lanes.

His assist on Friday was a great example of his ability to do that. He faked a pass to the point with an opponent coming onto him, dropped into a tight turn, engaged a second opposing player, and slid the puck over to his forward at the goal line. His teammate then passed through an overextended defensive box, thanks to the movements of Brook, for a one-timed goal.

The next stop is the World Junior selection camp for the defenceman. Some projected lineups had Brook on the outside looking in last week, mostly due to the stacked right side of the Canadian team with players like Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson, and Ian Mitchell, along with the fact that he doesn’t have the pedigree that comes with being a high first-round pick.

What plays in his favour is that he knows the coach, and the coach knows him well. They have spent the last few years working together on every aspect of the defenceman’s game. Recently, they added another tool to his game: the ability to play on his off-side.

The Habs prospect has spent some time in recent games next to Jett Woo, the right-handed defencemen just below him on Moose Jaw’s depth chart. The pair were reunited to face tough match-ups or when the team was down a few goals and in need of an offensive and/or defensive boost.

It is uncommon for right-handed defencemen to have to play on their off-side, as they are a rarer breed that their left-handed counterparts, who usually switch position at one time or another to accommodate their team’s alignment. But it can happen when an organization has an abundance of right-handed blue-liners. This is the case for Team Canada. To get a top-4 role, Brook could slide to the left side of the ice.

Due to the challenge it represents, it will be a fun experiment for the defenceman, who already showed he can be versatile. I would be surprised to see him stay the whole tournament in that position, but if he does end up successfully handling playing on his off-side, it would give more options for Montreal in the future to find a spot for Brook on their blue line. An interesting perspective.

Joël Teasdale, LW, Armada Blainville-Boisbriand

Teadale once again performed for the Armada in a losing effort versus the Drummondville Voltigeurs. He recorded three points: two goals and one assist.

He cut through the Voltigeurs’ defence for his first goal, going around a defender on the boards with a stick fake. He skated through the slot and froze the goalie to slide the puck into an empty cage. Teasdale added another goal by capitalizing on a rebound.

He is up to 32 points in 30 games.

Teadale wears #24 with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.

Jarret Tyszka, LD, Seattle Thunderbirds

Tyszka was in the Thunderbirds’ lineup last week after missing the beginning of the season. It will likely take him some time to get back to form, if it ever happens fully this season. Players often find it hard to come back after a prolonged absence without being a step behind or suffering from inconsistent play. The defenceman’s 21 penalty minutes in his first two games were a testament to that.

Yet on Wednesday, Tyszka scored his first goal of the season and added an assist, something that should help his confidence while he tries to get back up to speed.

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 31 14 18 32
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 30 7 10 17
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 28 8 12 20
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 25 11 9 20
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL Owen Sound 28 20 23 43
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 32 11 15 26
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle 3 1 1 2
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 25 3 13 16
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 25 9 24 33

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 Big Ten Wisconsin 18 2 3 5
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 14 3 9 12
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 16 3 14 17
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 18 0 6 6
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 14 1 5 6

Cayden Primeau’s season to date

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 10-3-1 2.40 0.918 2