Arguably the most pressing need for the Montreal Canadiens in the wake of the loss of Shea Weber would be on the right side of their blue line. While he’s highly unlikely to take over that role next season, they do have an interesting young rearguard in Josh Brook who could one day help at that position.
Heading into his third professional season with the Laval Rocket, there has been marked improvement in his game, but not quite enough for him to be considered a threat to crack the opening night roster out of camp, barring any surprises.
Selected in the second round of the 2017 entry draft, his offensive pedigree from the WHL made him an intriguing prospect. While he tore it up at the Junior level, his introduction to professional hockey was a rude awakening, and as a result it became apparent that he needed a little more work before he’d be able to contribute in the NHL.
Though that first year in Laval was tough, he appears to have turned a corner. He managed to eclipse his 2019-20 AHL point total in barely more than half the games — 15 points in a shortened 33-game season — good for second behind Otto Leskinen in team scoring from the blue line.
The improvement is there, but the emergence of prospects above him has had a restrictive impact on his ability to jump much higher on our list. 2020-21 will be a big year for him. He stands to be one of the top rearguards on the Laval Rocket, and with a strong start, he could very well be one of the first call-ups to Montreal should the need arise.
When it comes to Brook, there is a pretty wide range in which he falls with our panel, anywhere from a top-10 spot to the low 20s. A high of eight and a low of 22 saw him fall near the middle of that range at 13.
As mentioned, there has been noticeable improvement through his time in the AHL. Encouraging signs, but not enough to truly vault him in our rankings given the emergence of prospects above him. A strong 2021-22 campaign would go a long way to see him rise on our list.
Top 25 Under 25 History
After making the Top 25 right after being drafted, Brook has been a staple in the top 15, but is yet to crack the top 10.
History of #13
A steady riser all the way until he turned pro, the hype around Brook cooled off once he got a taste of AHL action. He did climb one spot from last year, but that was a product of Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s departure more than renewed confidence from our panel.
Brook is a puck mover through and through. He has high-level skating skills, makes a great first pass coming out of his zone, and can jump in on the rush with ease. Mobility is the key to his game, and he isn’t afraid whatsoever to use it.
He also has some rather impressive puck skills for a defenseman. When carrying the puck through the neutral zone, he can often be seen executing some slick stick handling to get around defenders, or back them off to open up some passing space.
I personally feel his shot is somewhat underrated, which is likely due to him struggling a little to figure out how to really use it in the AHL. A little confidence could go a long way in that regard, as he can get great velocity on the puck, but just needs to learn how to pick his spots and open up better shooting lanes with his movement.
As can often be the case with young puck movers, there are some positional issues to speak of, particularly in the defensive zone. Brook can look lost at times in his own zone, often venturing out of position to attempt an ill-advised check.
While his skating was certainly good enough to cover up these issues at the junior level, they were exposed once he turned pro. The speed of the professional game no longer permits him to get back into position as he once did, and he’ll need to figure out better positioning versus relying on quick feet.
The good news there is that when Joel Bouchard moved him down in the lineup during his first season with Laval, it actually benefited him. We saw legitimate improvement last season as a result of the gradual increase in responsibility, and the hope is that this will continue into next season as well, albeit with a new coach.
This is a player who still has the potential to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL if he can put it all together. His high-level skating and puck moving abilities are precisely what NHL coaches are looking for nowadays, and could get him some power play time as well to show off his offensive abilities.
That being said, the defensive and positional lapses are of great concern. It will be virtually impossible for any NHL coach to trust him with big minutes at the top level of hockey if those can’t be all but eliminated. He has improved in this area, but there is still work to be done if that top-four potential is ever to be realized.
With the Montreal Canadiens, his best hope for the time being would be to beat out everyone vying for a spot on the bottom pair This seems highly unlikely, so it will be another season with the Rocket for Brook, in which he can continue to work on his defensive issues.
There is still reason to believe that he could one day realize that top-four potential, but time is running out for that to happen. This could be the most important season of his career with the Montreal Canadiens.