Welcome to this year’s edition of Catching The Torch. With the expanded prospect pool of the Montreal Canadiens in North America, this season should have many profiles on new and returning players at the Junior (OHL, QMJHL, WHL) and collegiate (USHL, NCAA) levels. The series will be broken down in multiple segments during the week to cover each prospect as in-depth as possible with special coverage for events like the World Juniors. Hope you enjoy the articles!
In the span of a few days, Josh Brook signed an entry-level contract with the club that drafted him and was named captain of his Junior team at the dawn of his fourth WHL year. This is a great start for a defenceman who struggled to play to his level for a large portion of games during the second half of the 2017-18 season.
It was revealed that last year Brook was plagued by the wrist injury that he sustained in the 2017 rookie camp and couldn’t perform to the level that he wanted because of it.
“I think [the injury] affected my play a lot last year,” he said to us during this year’s prospect camp. “I didn’t feel like I was as strong on the puck, just lifting sticks. I feel like I had a lot more to give last year, but I didn’t have it. I didn’t have the strength.”
Consistency was always an issue for Brook. In his draft year, it was the biggest knock against him, and last season, despite his clear talent and even considering the external factors that have come to light, he didn’t show enough to convince observers that he could be a top performer every night.
Now, finally healthy, the second-round pick looks to dominate and be the leader that the Moose Jaw Warriors will need. He will be their uncontested number-one defenceman, but he has to show more than that. With the talent to be one of the premier defenders in the WHL, he needs to put up points regularly. Nothing less will be expected out of him.
His great start is promising. Against professional opponents in training camp, Brook didn’t look out of place, even being arguably the Habs’ best defender when he was slotted in the lineup for a pre-season game. He played his aggressive brand of offence and wasn’t shy to rush the net a couple of times for scoring chances. Plus, he showed that he could hold his own on the defensive side of the game, which is just as important in player evaluation.
He made an impression on many who tuned in to watch the game, and on the Canadiens management who then decided to ink him to a contract immediately, instead of taking the option to wait another season, which would have been within their rights.
His time in Montreal must have been a huge injection of confidence for Brook. It showed when he hit the ice in Moose Jaw for his first game as he put up an inspired performance with two goals in a 4-2 loss for the Warriors against the Brandon Wheat Kings.
It seemed like Brook was the trusted man of his coach for every situation. He was on the ice every other shift, playing the penalty kill and reprising his role at the top of the power-play formation.
That night, it was Brook back at the top of his offensive game, using his abilities to funnel shots on net for his team. He was there defying opponents, using fakes and stickhandling moves to advance up from the blue line and attack the slot where he is at his most dangerous.
The Warriors made it clear with this game that they will rely on Brook’s proficiency on the attack this season.
During the match, every time there was a battle in the corner on the left side of the offensive zone — the side opposite to Brook — #2 of Moose Jaw was seen descending to be in a position for a backdoor play. If a teammate managed to escape the pressure along the boards and get the puck across the ice, the defenceman was there to one-time it in.
This plan worked for the Warriors at the midway point of the third period when Justin Almeida made a few great moves to free himself and found Brook for the goal.
A few minutes prior, when the puck sprung loose near the blue line, Brook also showed that he doesn’t necessarily need to be set up to score. He carried it along the wall himself, evaded a pokecheck and fired a precise shot that passed through the goalie’s right arm and body and found the back of the net.
(Let’s hope Moose Jaw fixes their video quality for their remaining games...)
Brook also had good displays of puck-moving ability, a weakness of his at times last season. The defenceman has the necessary skills to toy with forecheckers to find his teammates for clean defensive-zone exits, but too often in 2017-18 he was causing turnovers or taking sub- optimal options on the breakout, making it easy for the opposing forwards.
In Saturday’s game, just like he does on the offensive blue line, he evaded opponents a couple of times deep in his zone with hard cutbacks and misdirection, organizing the rush for his team. He also managed, in a great sequence, to separate an opposing forward from the puck below the goal line before finding his teammate in the middle of the ice with a quick pass.
By using his moves to beat the forecheck and being consistently precise in his passes to exit the zone, Brook would help his team transition faster and easier out of the defensive end. This would allow him to spend more time on the offence where his talents can really shine.
It was a good performance from the defenceman to start the season, but it was just one game. Brook now has to show that he can build on it and maintain this level of play.
Cole Fonstad, LW, Prince Albert Raiders
Five points in two games is how Fonstad started the season. The forward, who was picked in the fifth round, made use of his shot and his passing ability to write his name repeatedly on the scoresheet, contributing both on the power play, where he recorded two of his points, and at five-on-five.
Fonstad isn’t the biggest player, but his ability to read the game stands out and makes him an asset in transition.
In those two games, Fonstad displayed how easily he can create zone entries for his team. He can pack up some speed, but more than that, seems to be able to find the holes in the defensive coverage to slip in and drop a pass to a teammate behind him, allowing the start of a high cycle for his team in the offensive end, which led to shots on net.
Away from the puck, the small forward is often one step ahead of the play and is able to kill opposing plays as they progress through the neutral zone, also creating more offence this way for his team.
This kind of high point production might not be sustainable for Fonstad, but I’d bet that he surpasses the point-per-game mark this season with relative ease. The question for him was never how offensively talented he was, but more if he can become quicker and better along the boards to take his offence to the next level.
The performances of Joël Teasdale, Samuel Houde and the rest of CHL prospects will be covered in a separate article later this week.
CHL weekly performances
|Cole Fonstad||LW||WHL||Prince Albert||2||2||3||5|
|Josh Brook||LD||WHL||Moose Jaw||1||2||0||2|