When the Montreal Canadiens made Josh Brook a second-round pick in 2017, the hope was that they had brought in a future top-four defenceman. A smooth skater, he looked to be a perfect fit for the blue line in a league that seems to be getting faster with every passing year.
When he put up 75 points through 59 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors in 2018-19, the belief that he could become that top-four talent was solidified. That offensive output was tied for first in the WHL among defensemen, so there was a lot to be excited about.
The move from Junior to professional hockey was a rude awakening for the young rearguard. After a tough first year with the Laval Rocket, it became clear that there is some work to be done before Brook will be ready to make the jump to the big show.
To start the 2020-21 season, the organization made the wise decision to loan Brook to Krefeld Pinguine of the DEL in Germany. What he needs right now in his development more than anything is to be logging minutes, wherever that may be. He was, very unfortunately, diagnosed with COVID-19 after traveling to Germany, so he has yet to actually play a game in Europe.
Once he’s cleared to play again, it should be interesting to see how he does, and if he can parlay that into more success in Laval once the AHL gets back in action.
That tough first season in the AHL saw our panel cool on Brook somewhat. Though we all still feel that he belongs in the Top 25, we have a low of 22 (and a high of 9), and the bulk of the panellists placing him in the 10-16 range.
I had Brook in my top 10 last year, but he fell to 14 on my list. It’s far too early to give up on a player like Brook, but the simple fact is there are other prospects who have surpassed him in the last year. A strong 2020-21 could see him bounce back on our list moving forward.
Top 25 Under 25 History
He’s been a steady riser on our list, going from 24 in his first year of eligibility, to 16 the next year, and last year just missing the top 10 at number 11. This is his first backslide on our annual list, again due primarily to his tough first year in the pros.
History of #14
What made Brook an intriguing prospect in his draft year still holds as his most impressive quality: high-level skating. His good top-end speed allows him to jump into rushes and become an extra forward of sorts. If every defenceman on your team could skate like Brook, you’d be in a great position.
He’s also a great passer, so that coupled with his mobility makes him a solid power-play quarterback. His shot won’t strike fear in the hearts of opponents like a Shea Weber bomb, but he uses it effectively through screens to generate rebounds and deflection opportunities.
Yes, the highlight above is just from an intrasquad game, but I think this highlights what he does very well offensively. He retrieves a loose puck near the boards and bumps it back to the point. Recognizing that his post is now covered, he keeps heading down and then toward the net for an easy goal off the rebound.
His offensive instincts are great, and if he can fine-tune some other areas of his game, he’ll end up with more opportunities to put up points at that end.
Junior hockey in Canada is often very offensive-minded. Brook thrived in that environment, but found things more difficult in the AHL where checking gets a lot tighter. Forced to play a lot more defence than he would in the WHL, he struggled to read plays at the beginning of the year.
Though his offensive instincts are great, he needs more work particularly in his own end. Much of that boils down to reading plays and making good decisions with positioning and breakout passes. That should come with experience, but it is definitely the number-one thing he’ll need to work on before he can be considered for an NHL job.
He was forced into a role he ultimately wasn’t ready for, and wasn’t able to have any success early in the year. Thankfully, Joël Bouchard recognized this and moved him down in the lineup. Once the move was made, things started to click a little more. The key with Brook seems to be not rushing him into something he’s not prepared for.
Step one is to get past this COVID bump in the road and play some games in Germany. Once that is done, the expectation is that he’d be back in Laval, hopefully in a slightly larger role that he should be more ready for this time around.
I still feel that Brook has the skating tools to one day become a top-four defender in the NHL. There is a lot of work to do, but Bouchard has given Habs fans a lot to believe in when it comes to his ability to develop players. Another year or two in Laval and we’ll find out if Brook can realize his potential.
Even though the pandemic put a hold on things, I liked the club’s decision to loan him to a European league. Get him as many minutes as you can, because the more comfortable he gets with the speed of professional hockey, the more he’ll be able to make better reads and use his skating to his advantage.
The good news is that there is zero reason to rush Brook into an NHL role. The Habs have a somewhat crowded blue line, so unless they run into real injury trouble, I don’t see them needing to look to Laval at any point this year for defence. If they do, I think there are at least one or two names that will be ahead of Brook.
Time is on his side, so the best course of action right now is simply to be patient.