It was a season of ups and downs for Josh Brook as the inconsistency that plagued him in his draft season continued in 2017-18. He has all the tools to be a dominant WHL defender night in and night out, but those only occasionally come together for memorable performances.
Brook started the season on fire after missing close to two months of action due to a wrist injury he suffered in last summer’s rookie camp. The Moose Jaw Warriors, who were already dominant without their number-one defencemen, got a boost from his return. It pushed them over the top, with their attack, especially, benefiting from the involvement of the blue-liner.
For a time, Brook was scoring at around a point-per-game pace, looking like he was poised to make his mark and prove that he could be the exciting offensive defenceman that the Montreal Canadiens hoped to acquire with a second-round selection in 2017. But in January, his production slowed down.
There were only flashes of the skill and creativity of the player, enough to fill highlight packages but not to say that Brook was succeeding in distinguishing himself from the other WHL defencemen in the system.
Nevertheless, his talent and potential keep him in mind when considering the Habs’ top Junior prospects.
The voting reflects this.
Interestingly, it was much closer than for some other prospects we’ve seen before with a range from 12th to 23rd — the first player to have all 14 votes within the top 25 — with EOTP’s selection just about nailing down the final rank. This is normal as we get closer to the best prospects, but the voting for some youngsters ahead of Brook was still much more diverse than what we see with the Moose Jaw defenceman.
This scope for Brook is very reasonable. You could place him high based on the tools that suggest a ceiling of a quality contributor, or be more conservative based on his last season.
Despite being very excited by the blue-liner on occasions this season, I fell more in this second category and was one of the lower votes, ranking him at 20th, He was just four spots on my ballot ahead of Jarret Tyszka, who took big strides in his development and could fill a similar role as Brook in the Habs’ pool.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Josh Brook was ranked #24 in 2017 with the votes much more spread out.
He made an appreciable jump forward in this year’s top 25 under 25. A season of getting to know the defender and seeing the incredible plays he pulled off at times certainly contributed to his improved ranking.
This is what can happen when Brook plays at the top of his game:
He has the confidence to challenge defenders, can use misdirection to open passing lanes, and can become a play-driver and creator. This play above was the highlight of his season, and was just an incredible display of poise.
Brook is at his best when he looks for openings at the offensive blue line. He can find his teammates quickly and is a great passer, able to slap the puck precisely to friendly sticks to create deflection goals. But he is even more dangerous when he jumps up from the point, either without the puck to attempt a back-door play, or with it to create those himself by drawing the attention of the opposing defence.
He is a good shooter and his mobility allows him to find lanes for his shots. He can use quick stops to fire the puck through the defence, but is also able to receive in motion, accelerate, and release a wrister on net. He tends to keep those low to try for rebounds or the aforementioned deflections.
His skating can also make things happen off the rush at times. With his team in need of a goal in the dying seconds of the third period of Game 3 versus the Prince Albert Raiders, the defenceman took matters into his own hands and scored an unassisted goal by going all the way to the other end after beating a forechecker.
He made a few quick turns that the Raiders forechecker followed him in. As the opponent got close to him, Brook dropped to his right in one last twist to accelerate out of his zone, skate through the middle of the ice, and go through four Raiders players before cutting to the front of the net and sliding the puck between the goalie’s legs.
Brook has good hands and is a good puck-handler, which combines with his vision to make him the offensive threat that he can be.
Away from the puck, Brook is probably the most comfortable playing a zone defence. He has good positioning overall and is able to follow his man and prevent scoring chances from happening right in the slot.
Like his offensive game, Brook’s defensive capabilities fluctuate from game to game and shift to shift.
At times this season, he was effective at shutting down opponents off the rush, but as the season went on, it became a weakness for him. His gap was too aggressive and he was caught lunging forward at attackers coming in with a speed difference, trying for early poke checks that only resulted in opposing forwards flying past him. This is probably something Brook can fix relatively easily for next season, getting in a better rhythm transitioning from offence to defence. We have seen him execute much better in this aspect of the game.
But there is one part of Brook’s game that needs a lot more work, and it is his breakout ability. For a defenceman who is comfortable with the puck in the offensive zone, he doesn’t display the same qualities when he gains possession in his own end. He often fails to identify appropriate routes for zone exits or recognize which teammates are open and where the escape from forechecking pressure will be. He often dumped the puck to his partner or one of his forwards last season only to see it stripped away instantly.
This could stem from a lack of awareness that could be helped with more shoulder checks and quicker execution. Brook has the tools to be really good in transition: skating, passing, and puck-handling skills. If he could improve that aspect of his game, it would also make his offensive game shine with less time spent defending and more on the attack.
Tools are important for any prospect, but what is even more important is progression. Brook needs to take steps forward next season; be more consistent and make a dominant offensive impact with the skill he has. He needs to distinguish himself and be clearly among the very best blue-liners in the WHL, and he knows it.
To achieve that goal, the best thing for him would be an injury-free season. He was hurt again this summer and couldn’t take part in the Habs’ development camp or the World Junior Showcase for which he received an invite from Team Canada, but has recovered, according to the Moose Jaw Warriors, and will be back for the WHL team’s training camp.
An impactful year would put Brook back on the track that could lead him to a top-four role with the Canadiens in the future. It probably won’t be a short path; he will need to tighten his defensive game to complement the dynamic offensive play he can show. But in a few years, with the aging right side of Montreal’s defence, the Warriors defender could fill a big need.