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Catching The Torch: Josh Brook’s puck-moving talents; Scott Walford and creating offence

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) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

Josh Brook continues to produce for the Moose Jaw Warriors. He seems to have the offensive game figured out in the WHL and seems at home manning the point and the half-wall.

Of the 37 games he has played, only in nine did the defenceman not record a point. Consistency was the goal this year, and it’s already almost mission accomplished for him. Moose Jaw’s formation won’t be changing until the end of the season, unlike last year, so his role is safe. He should, in all likelihood, finish the season above a point-per-game rate, barring injury or an unexpected turn of events.

Now, we look to him to display a mature game until the end of the season. The Warriors will probably go as far in the playoffs as the play of their best defenceman will take them. Not only will Brook have to be dominant offensively, but he needs to be a shutdown presence and a force in transition.

Moose Jaw won all three of their games this week, and Brook’s best showing was probably against the Edmonton Oil Kings. He took three minor penalties: one for tripping, another for cross-checking, and a final one for slashing. But even considering the time he spent in the box (a reflection of the hard contest that it was) and the fact that he only recorded a single point — an assist on an empty-netter — it was his puck-moving talents that made the performance memorable.

Here are a few good sequences showing the defenceman orchestrating zone exits.

Josh Brook wears #2 with the Moose Jaw Warriors.

The first clip is the most impressive. Brook shoulder-checks a couple of times, sees the forechecker is on his left shoulder, and so fakes using his forehand to retrieve the puck. He drops his weight the other way to cut away from the opponent, looks up the ice, recognizes a second forechecker, presents the puck for a pokecheck, and takes it away as soon the opposing forward tries it, skating around the threat. He finishes the play by finding one of his teammates rushing out of the zone with a pass.

The other sequences are less flashy but showcase other good elements, like him supporting the rush as a trailing option, his usage of deception to open or keep passing lanes open, and his ability to attract forecheckers onto him to create space for teammates to skate into after his pass. Brook also displayed that when faced with limited options he can freeze the puck along the boards, wait for support, and then escape possession to make a short pass to his better-positioned partner.

Brook had some decision-making problems coming back from the World Juniors. Fatigue probably played a role in that. The good news is that he seems to have gone back, in recent games, to the solid play he showcased beforehand.

Scott Walford, LD, Victoria Royals

Walford had his most productive weekend of his Junior career to date: two goals and three assists for five points in two games. And it’s not like he was just amassing a few points from scoring fests. The Victoria Royals scored six goals total in their two contests against the Kamloops Blazers and the Kelowna Rockets; so the Habs defenceman participated in all but one goal for his team.

In his 20 games, Walford has scored 20 points. The point-per-game mark he now holds is a big jump from what we have been accustomed to from him. For most of his time in the WHL, Walford had scored at around a point every other game or less, being impressively consistent with his production.

Is this a breakthrough for the defenceman?

Picking up points is always a good sign. Even if luck plays a factor in production, it usually means a player is involved in the offence of their team, especially when the points come in a consistent fashion, which has overall been the case for Walford recently.

Yet despite the new encouraging signs, Walford still projects as a defensive defenceman more than one who will put up points in the professional ranks. There are a few things the defenceman has to work on to push up his offensive ceiling, which can be seen in some of the offensive sequences from this week.

Scott Walford wears #7 with the Victoria Royals.

Even if Walford is picking up goals and assists in many of those plays, he isn’t doing it dynamically. He tends to not move his feet to change the shape of the defence in front of him, but instead moves around the puck to pass it from side to side, or shoot by turning his body while the puck stays in place.

He has a good slapshot and is able to release when the first layer of defenders allows him to shoot, but he isn’t creating shooting lanes for himself otherwise, or creatively using the threat of his shot to open other, more dangerous plays to the slot. Getting the puck on net is never a bad play, and Walford scored this week doing just that, but with more patience and a better sense of timing, it’s possible to create higher-percentage plays.

Take Brook as an example:

In the above sequences from this week, Brook is moving his feet, displays his ability to move the opposing defence, and great offensive awareness. Before releasing his shot, the defenceman gets his head up to see his options and adjusts his play with the puck to favour the best outcome. He either delays his shot (or pass) to wait for teammates to get in position, or immediately fires if they are uncovered and in position to make a play.

Tools like a dominant skating ability and a big shot are very useful when it comes to creating offence, but perhaps the most important aspects of it are good vision and decision making. They’re elements Walford still has to work on, and ones that project Brook as a potential quarterback at the next levels.

This week, the Victoria Royals and Seattle Thunderbirds will play each other in a Habs prospect showdown. Walford and Jarret Tyszka will battle once again after Tyszka won the previous matchup between those two.

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

*Up to date as of midnight yesterday.

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 BLB / ROU 66 43 37 80
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 65 16 27 43
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 33 10 12 22
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 62 34 35 69
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL OS / GUE 59 34 60 94
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 67 29 44 73
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle 41 8 22 30
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 62 9 38 47
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 59 16 59 75

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 37 4 11 15
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 25 6 12 18
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 32 7 23 30
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 35 0 10 10
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 34 1 11 12

Cayden Primeau’s season to date

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau 2017 NCAA Northeastern 23-9-1 2.05 0.935 4