Josh Brook joined the Montreal Canadiens at this year’s NHL entry draft, part of a good second round by the scouting staff. Brook and Joni Ikonen were selected 56th and 58th overall, respectively, and rounded out what was a solid first two rounds for the Habs.
Brook was the first of four defencemen selected on the second day of the draft, as the organization addressed its pressing need for defensive prospects. With Mikhail Sergachev being traded to Tampa Bay days before the event, in addition to Noah Juulsen and Simon Bourque graduating to the AHL next season, the pipeline of junior-aged prospects on defence had virtually dried up.
With 40 point in 69 games, Brook’s production is very similar to that of Victor Mete’s in his draft-eligible season. Even after his WHL team, the Moose Jaw Warriors, were eliminated from the playoffs, he went on to represent Canada at the U18 World Championship, collecting another two points in five games in Slovakia.
Brook will be back in the WHL again next year, and in addition to seeing further progression in his production, it’s also entirely probable he takes on a larger leadership role for his team.
The votes were a little bit spread out on Brook, given how new he is to the franchise and the unfamiliarity with his abilities. His range extends from 32 to 14 among the 24 ballots cast.
First and foremost, Brook is a highly capable puck-mover on the blue line, with an assertive style of play that sees him pinching up the ice with regularity to keep the offence moving. He times those pinches well, keeping the puck below the faceoff dots in the offensive zone. He can keep plays alive in the attacking end by using a soft touch pass and shifting his positioning frequently to stay a viable option for teammates, and keep defenders moving to cover constantly shifting lanes.
If he decides not to rush the puck up ice himself, he has a solid first pass and will often look to begin a breakout this way. He has some good puck-handling skills, able to deke around defenders in the neutral or offensive zone to help buy teammates time before setting them up for zone entries or scoring chances.
His 40 points ranked 23rd among defenceman in the WHL, ahead of players like Juulsen and the newly drafted Cale Fleury. Now with a full year under his belt, it’s expected that those numbers will increase once again, and he could land near the top of the heap for WHL scoring from the blue line next season.
One issue, and one that’s common for younger players, is that Brook needs to have a more consistent effort on a nightly basis. He shows flashes of high-end talent, like a great deke to beat a defender on a net drive, but he doesn’t use those abilities as often as someone of his skill level could be doing.
Despite his high energy level, and decent skating ability, Brook can sometimes find himself behind the eight ball in one-on-one situations. He is sometimes outmuscled in physical battles, and his recovery speed leaves a bit to be desired.
When Brook plays the game at top speed and cuts down decision time with his aggressive play, he is the best player on the ice most nights. It’s when the game slows to a pace he isn’t controlling that difficulty ensues. His transition game, whether it be carrying the puck out or with a breakout pass, suffers a bit in this situation.
It goes back to his issues with consistency. As he grows and develops more as a player these flaws are likely to be overcome as well.
While he isn’t on the same level as Mete in terms of offensive ability, he is more than capable of being a point-producer in his own right. It’s hard to fully project what Brook is capable of, but early indications are that he can be a dynamic defender throughout his career.
This upcoming season in Moose Jaw should be one that sees him increase his production and iron out some of his defensive flaws. His aggressive style of play could place him on the radar of Team Canada for the World Juniors either this year or next.
There’s a lot to like about Brook, and his presence in the prospect pool is a much needed addition to a group that was dwindling in terms of raw talent. Adding Brook was a good use of a late second-round pick, getting a player with the potential to one day become an offensive NHL defenceman.