Josh Brook skating next to Xavier Ouellet during the first day of Montreal Canadiens training camp on Friday afternoon doesn’t raise the eyebrows or alarm bells that Victor Mete did next to Shea Weber a year ago.
But that doesn’t mean the feat isn’t notable.
Brook attending camp without an entry-level contract (along with Cale Fleury, who is in a completely different, yet similar, situation) is something that the Canadiens haven’t had at camp in at least the last three seasons. Last year, as an example, Victor Mete already had his NHL contract signed, as did Mikhail Sergachev the year before. Other junior players have attended camp without a contract, but they were not drafted by the team.
Brook and Fleury are invariably linked, but many forget that Brook was the second player the Canadiens chose in the 2017 Draft — ahead even of Joni Ikonen. Most of that is due to injuries that have limited Brook’s playing time and, by his own admission, affected his play when he did suit up.
“I think [the injury] affected my play a lot last year,” he said last week at the team’s rookie 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.”
“I had the surgery done and I guess I came back too early and I didn’t do enough to get it better,” he said.
The procedure was needed to repair the Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU) tendon in his wrist. Injuries to this tendon are common in tennis players, and affect the pinky side of the wrist. Symptoms of an ECU injury, like Brook mentions, could include a loss of grip strength.
Brook missed the on-ice sessions at development camp and Team Canada’s summer showcase to rest the wrist. He played one pre-season game in the WHL prior to rookie camp, and scored a goal.
Before receiving the invite to camp, Brook felt that the NHL was a bit out of reach in 2018-19.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked if he could make the jump to the NHL this year. “It’s tough [...] Obviously that’s the ultimate goal, but if not, I just want to go back and dominate Junior.”
Brook, if he returns to the WHL would have a chance to crack Team Canada’s World Junior team. It helps that Tim Hunter, his coach with the Moose Jaw Warriors, is Team Canada’s head coach.
“I definitely want to make that team,” he told Eyes On The Prize at the team’s development camp in July. “But it’s something I need to work for.”
His coach at the Canadiens rookie camp, Joël Bouchard, has known Brook since he was 16 years old due to his role with Hockey Canada’s junior program. He believes that the defenceman can play at that level.
“He has made a nice progression,” Bouchard said. “He has good feet, he does good things and it’s a journey like it is for most players. He has potential and he’s a young player we have our eye on.”
Brook doesn’t have the option to go to the AHL. It’s either the NHL or a return to Junior, but for now he gets an extended look at a training camp at the pro level and get a taste of the level that he hopes to one day achieve.