The Montreal Canadiens took Josh Brook in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft on the heels of a strong 40-point campaign over 69 games. After a 2017-18 season marred by injury and inconsistency, it would have been fair for one to have some concerns about him, as he dropped to just 32 points over 45 contests.
Birthplace: Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada
Date of birth: June 17, 1999
Drafted: 2017 (56th overall)
Weight: 192 lbs.
Team: Laval Rocket (AHL)
Any concerned parties were placated in style by the Moose Jaw Warriors rearguard in 2018-19. Brook was tied for first among WHL defencemen for points with a whopping 75 over just 59 games, including 16 goals. Dawson Davidson of the Saskatoon Blades also had 75, and Bowen Byram, the eventual fourth overall pick in the 2019 Draft, came close to him as well, but both dressed in more games.
He may not have the pedigree of a top-five pick like Byram, and of course is two years older, but it is hard to argue that Brook didn’t have the most impressive season by a defenseman in the Western Hockey League. His 1.27 points-per-game clip put him comfortably atop the list of offensive blue-liners, and he was a dominant force for his team all year.
A quick four-game playoff exit for the warriors was disappointing, but it gave him his first taste of pro hockey in a seven-game stint with the Laval Rocket.
The voting was quite spread out for Brook, as has been the case in his two previous years of eligibility. There were a total of eight votes, including my own, that placed him in the 8-12 range, and the EOTP community collectively hit the nail on the head with a ranking of 11.
Andrew: Despite all the talk surrounding Alexander Romanov, Brook is arguably the Canadiens’ most complete defensive prospect at this point, and therefore I ranked the blue-liner accordingly. His offensive contribution, defensive play, and responsible puck movement make him a serious threat to make the team out of camp this year as he’s the kind of rookie who quickly earns his coach’s trust.
Beyond that, Brook should easily mature into a top-four role, ahead of Noah Juulsen and Cale Fleury. That said, the Canadiens defensive pipeline is extremely healthy, with Brook and the three other players mentioned here all likely to have strong NHL careers, with Brook potentially leading the way.
Patrik: While I might have been hard on Brook, I would probably only move him up two to three places in a redo. While his WHL season was good — great, in fact, when you consider he more than doubled his previous year’s points total — I didn’t think he was as dominant at the WJC as I expected. At the same time, when he did play those AHL games I thought that he seemed somewhat out of place. That may have been due to a long season, but still it affects my ranking.
There are other players that I feel performed at a higher level when they played among the pros. I will most likely raise him quite a bit next year if he does have a strong year in the AHL, but so far when I’ve expected him to perform, I haven’t seen it.
Top 25 Under 25 History
He made the list in his very first year of eligibility, just squeaking in at 24. He got a considerable jump up to 16 last year despite his aforementioned up-and-down season, and now he sits just outside our top 10.
History of #11
|2018||Jacob de la Rose|
With the NHL becoming more and more of a speed-based league, you need defencemen who can skate, and Brook has a stride like a thoroughbred. His skating is quite impressive, and a huge part of what makes him such a threat offensively.
He can go end-to-end if the opportunity arises, but where you see him shine the most is on the offensive blue line. His vision and creativity with the puck, combined with a quality shot and precision passing, give him the ability to take over a game from the point. He can work himself into a dangerous shooting position with his hands and feet, or he can find a teammate tape-to-tape and create equally dangerous opportunities.
Naturally, his prowess on the blue line makes him a very valuable addition to his team’s power play. He can move the penalty-killers around and dish to his teammates, and is very capable on the back-door zipper play, which I find reminiscent of a young Andrei Markov at times. He might not be the saviour for the Canadiens’ abysmal man-advantage unit right away, but he is certainly a hope for its future.
It may be due to the fact that he spends so much time creating things in the offensive zone, but some adjustments to his game in his own end are there to be made. He has a tendency at times to overcommit to stick-checks that allow defenders to get past him. This could be borne of a desire to quickly turn the puck the other way on offence, but something he’ll need to change as a pro where the forwards he’ll face are very capable of making him pay on the scoreboard.
Though he is a very capable puck-mover, he could use some work on his outlet passes on the breakout. It is unlikely that he’ll be able to simply outskate opposing players in the pro ranks the way that he could in Junior. An end-to-end rush by a defender is one of the more exciting plays in hockey, but incredibly hard to do against the best hockey players in the world.
Simply put: he needs to stop trying to do too much on his own. He can use more body checks to get opposing forwards off the puck rather than attempting a steal on every occasion, and let his own forwards come back in support. If he can do that, and make some improvements in his breakout game, he becomes the complete package.
After goaltenders, defencemen are arguably the hardest players to project, which is why you see so many great blue-liners in the NHL come from draft slots outside the first round. That being said, Brook’s ceiling is incredibly high, and I view him as the heir apparent to Shea Weber as the number-one right-handed defenceman of the future for the Canadiens. He has more similar qualities to Jeff Petry as a player, which is far from being a problem if he can in fact become the future number-one option for the club.
It’s a rather lofty projection to be sure, but Brook’s offensive upside is exactly what NHL teams want in their top defencemen nowadays. With Weber and Petry on the roster, there is zero pressure for him to be that guy right away, so the organization has time to groom him for an eventual role on the top pair.
Few will forget how Victor Mete was essentially rushed to the top of the left side out of sheer necessity. Luckily for the Habs, Mete acclimated well and earned that role, but it isn’t the ideal way for a player, let alone a defenceman, to be introduced to the NHL. They have a chance to take their time with Brook; Christian Folin, Noah Juulsen, and Cale Fleury all have more professional experience under their belts, and that final spot on the right side has plenty of bodies vying to fill it.
This could permit Brook to hone his craft as one of, if not the top guy with the Laval Rocket. I would not be the least bit surprised if he challenges for that final spot through camp, but I think it would be better for him to get some truly meaningful minutes in Laval before he makes the jump. Laval is just a quick hop from Montreal, so he’d certainly be a top option if he plays well enough to force his way onto the roster mid-season.
I’d bet any money that we’ll see Josh Brook in a Habs jersey at some point this year, and I for one am quite excited about it.