2017 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #8 Josh Brook

Josh Brook: For the skilled and intelligent blue liner, consistency is key. | Photo: Colin Corneau, Brandon Sun Files

After a steady rise throughout the season, Josh Brook enters the prospect pool as one of the organization’s most promising rearguards.

Brook has been on the radar for years. After being the fourth pick in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, he was named the SMHL’s (Minor Midget) Top Defender. He had a quiet, but effective rookie season in the WHL, and then became a legitimate top pairing guy in this past season, his draft year.

Brook was fifth among first-time draft eligible blue liners in P1/GP with 0.35 and second in 5v5 P1/GP with 0.22. All of Brook’s production statistics were comfortably among the best in the WHL, and comfortably top-pairing level. Just 13 of his 40 points coming on the man-advantage. All-in-all, these are encouraging numbers.

While Brook isn’t consistently dynamic from the backend, he’s likely the most offensively-gifted blue liner in the organization, and that’s what this article will explore.

#8) JOSH BROOK
Acquired: 2017, 2nd round, 56th overall
Position: RD | Shoots: R
Birthdate: 1999-06-17 | Nationality: Canada
Team: Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Height: 6’2 (188cm) | Weight: 185 lbs (84kg)

GPGAPP1G/GP1A/GPP/GPP1/GP5v5 P1/GPTM.INV%GF.Rel%
6983240160.120.230.580.350.2216.74%4.09%

Series Navigation:
Top 30 Prospects: Ranking Methodology – Integrating Statistics into Analysis
Top 30 Prospects: #30 – #26
Top 30 Prospects: #25 – #21
Top 30 Prospects: #20 – #16
Top 30 Prospects: #15 – #11
Top 30 Prospects: #10
Top 30 Prospects: #9
Top 30 Prospects: #8
Top 30 Prospects: #7
Top 30 Prospects: #6
Top 30 Prospects: #5
Top 30 Prospects: #4
Top 30 Prospects: #3
Top 30 Prospects: #2
Top 30 Prospects: #1

Brook is clearly a talented defenceman on both sides of the puck, but the first half of this article will focus specifically on his play in the offensive zone. In order to grab the points, Brook utilizes his explosive accleration, quick hands, crafty playmaking, and powerful shot. But it’s not just that tools that make him effective–he actively seeks out lanes and to improve his shooting location.

Watch how Brook actively seeks out a higher quality shooting location:

While it’s true that Brook was given plenty of space in the above clips, just like with most junior clips it’s not necessarily the play itself that’s important, but rather the thought process and skill level displayed.

Brook has the presence of mind to challenge the defender to create space for himself. Then, he flashes his explosive acceleration to gain separation. The initial move to get away from the defender is creating the space, then he exploits that space created.

Brook is also quite dexterous in possession, as shown by the inside-out moves. He’s not a silky smooth stickhandler, but has a wide-base and quickness that enable him work through traffic.

By combining all these tools, Brook improves the quality of his shooting location. In some instances, he’s taking the puck from a low-danger area all the way into a high-danger spot. This increases the likelihood of his shot resulting in a scoring chance, or even a goal.

If improving the location isn’t an option, Brook is still a powerful enough shooter to score from the point. He operates like your prototypical quarterback, moving the puck quickly and having the ability to tee up a bomb. However, even when working the point, there’s still a purposeful movement into better shooting locations.

Notice how Brook doesn’t take the one-timer, and instead steps into open space while loading up a wrist shot. While it’s a screamer of a shot that he unloads, Brook goes from a one-time option from 56-feet out with no traffic, to wrist shot from 36-feet out with four bodies in the lane.

Even better than Brook’s shooting ability is his playmaking and vision. Not only does he use that same acceleration to jump into pockets to find lanes, his vision enables him to connect with high-skill passes.

In these passing sequences, Brook takes purposeful movement into the offensive zone in order to improve his passing location. Not only does it decrease the distance of his passes, but most importantly it improves his angle. This makes the pass easier to complete, and improves the dangerousness of the passes. The first and third pass in the above clip cross the royal road, which improves the likelihood of a goal. In the second, Brook steps into open ice, causing “mini-rush” in the OZ with his eventual target left alone in front of the net.

Brook hops into open lanes and then sends bullet passes. His passes are noticeably faster than his peers, and he’s pinpoint accurate. He has the ability to create passing lanes, just like he does shooting lanes, with his acceleration and aggressiveness. When most defenders pinch, they pinch to maintain possession or disrupt the exit. When Brook pinches–which is quite often–he has the unique ability to turn that pinch directly into a scoring chance.

However, I’ve read concerns about Brook’s offensive game. While I don’t agree that it’s a product of his skill level, it’s important to take everything into consideration. Brook is skilled from the backend, and he has the right thought processes while making plays. Is he a highly skilled defender? Probably not, but he does make highly skilled plays, but not with consistency.

That’s the main concern with Brook’s game in my opinion. While he flashes this offensive vision and skill, there are extended periods of time where Brook is rather pedestrian in the offensive zone. In these stretches, the plays that he makes lack creativity and skill. One of the biggest reasons why I’m less concerned about these stretches that others is during the second half and playoffs, he was making these plays in the majority of my viewings.

Another important consideration: Brook’s Moose Jaw Warriors scored the seventh most goals in the WHL, most of which came from the three players. Brook’s most common defensive partner was Matt Sozanski, together they generally played behind a dynamic offensive line consisting of at least of Jayden Halbgewachs, Brett Howden, Brayden Burke, and Noah Gregor. Halbgewachs, for reference, had points on slightly over 45% of Brook’s points.

So, it’s important to remember that Brook played behind a heck of a talented team, and was generally the defender sharing the ice with their top scorers.

All-in-all, when Brook is engaged offensively, he seeks to improve his shooting location and has the skill to create lanes and connect with high-skill passes. However, there are legitimate concerns about the consistency he makes these, and the sustainability as a product of his team.

The Report

Among the best defencemen in his age group for years, Josh Brook has since quietly done his thing since joining the WHL ranks. In the playoffs, Brook was his team’s best player and willed them to seven games. He is a steady defender with aggression and a capable offensive skill set. In fact, Brook’s 0.22 5v5 P1/GP was the second best among all WHL draft eligible blue liners. His 16.74 TM INV% is respectable, albeit unspectacular, but the effect his presence had on his team’s GF%, is overwhelmingly positive.

A generally consistent defender whose value comes his aggressive and decisive nature. Brook plays a tight gap with strong, active stick, and doesn’t hesitate to throw the body. He goes into the corners without hesitation, and continually applies pressure. Brook can be weak on forwards around his net, and his aggressiveness will lead to periods of needless chasing.

Armed with explosive acceleration and quick four-way mobility, Brook displays an ability to evade pressure and orchestrate the breakout. He occasionally overestimates his own skill level and top-end speed by challenging forecheckers in one-on-one situations, but generally keeps things simple with a laser beam breakout pass. His maneuvering in the defensive zone with the puck is purposeful and precise, making him an strong link in transition.

Brook isn’t one to lead the rush, but manages to find a level of creativity and skill in the offensive zone not found elsewhere in his game. As discussed, he creates shooting and passing lanes with his explosive acceleration, quick hands, and decisive nature. The hard-shooting blue liner could stand to quicken his release, but displays the full arsenal of shots, even an above-average backhander. Passing is Brook’s forte, and has the ability to make high-skill passes off the forehand and while in stride. When engaged offensively, he’s rarely stationary on the point, and even spends a fair bit of his time below the circles, or even in the corner.

Decision-making, like for many young players, is what needs the most refinement. Brook is an aggressive pincher who can often turn the failed breakout attempt into a scoring chance, but sometimes at the wrong end of the ice. As mentioned, he could stand to be more patient defensively. But the fact that he processes the game quickly and doesn’t hesitate to engage is encouraging going forward.

Although Moose Jaw will lose a top pairing defender next season (Matt Sozanski), their dynamic offensive core will remain intact. Given this, it’s reasonable to expect another big jump in Brook’s point totals this upcoming season.

Ranking Explanation: Brook versus Mete was one of the hardest decisions on this list. Here’s how I leaned Brook over Mete.

(1) Defence: Mete is fast, rangy, and great with his stick. In all honesty, it wouldn’t hurt Brook to watch how Mete defends. However, Mete’s size is a factor in projecting his defensive game, he requires additional help in many one-on-one battles that Brook doesn’t. Brook is more erratic in his defensive zone coverage, no doubt, but close examination gives me reason to believe that he can improve his defence. Brook started to figure out how important patience is, just like how Mete did halfway through his draft year. I’ve noticed that Mete can be passive on his gap control, preferring to take the puck away deeper in the offensive zone, whereas Brook is more assertive. Defensively, it’s in Mete’s favour now, but I project them to be roughly on par at the next level.

(2) Transition: This is Mete’s game. He’s explosive, powerful, and a puck rusher with flashes of dynamic lane creation. He’s a bit individualistic in his rushes, but also makes a consistent breakout pass. He always finds a way to make a contribution in transition. But Brook isn’t too far off. He’s not as overtly flashy, but moves the puck off his stick quicker, and is less reliant on uncontrolled exits. Brook is an occasional rusher, generally a passer. They both have exceptional agility and mobility, enabling them to evade forecheckers. Edge Mete because of how much offence he generates off the rush, but it’s relatively close.

(3) Offence: This is the longest part of the explanation. I’ll start with a spoiler: I think Brook is better in the offensive zone than Mete. Here’s why:

While dynamic off the rush, Mete is not after establishing the offensive zone. He has improved at walking the line to create passing lanes, but his shot remains unimpressive and under-utilized. Instead, Mete actively seeks to improve his shooting location, but he rarely does it with the puck. Instead, he’s able to find seems and jump down low for a backdoor play. There’s nothing that says Mete won’t be able to do this in the NHL, but it’s how he scored most of his goals this season. Will he be able to score them at the same rate? I doubt it, because it’s a play that requires space and factors out of his control to work. Since this is how most of his goals are generated, I wonder if he really has significant offensive upside in the NHL. So, there are three projection concerns: 1) Lack of a shot makes him unidimensional from the point, 2) Sustainability of the “backdoor play,” and 3) How Mete generally needs space to operate offensively.

For Brook, I do not have these concerns, rather they are concerns of consistency. Brook shot packs above-average power, albeit he could stand to improve his release. Thanks to his shot and other tools, he creates offence is more diversified manner than Mete. He creates offence like a prototypical point man, but also generates a fair share of his offence through improving his shooting location with the puck with an explosive first step, quick hands, and rapid decision-making. He can actively create his own space from the point, and shows no hesitation engaging one-on-one. He’s also a better playmaker than Mete in the offensive zone, and connects with high-skill passes that no other blue liner in the prospect pool attempts. Does he need to do these things more often? Absolutely, but the skills are there.

So, this decision to place my prized Victor Mete below Brook comes as a product of offence. I project them rough par defensively, but Brook has that extra bite to his game offensively as a product of his skill, rapid decision-making, and shot.

There’s an underlying believe in all of this: I perceive prospects as more likely to improve their consistency or elements of their game they already possess than to develop new skills or evolve their game.

Notes:

  1. All the information is “in my opinion.
  2. The ranking likely has limited-to-no value. Think of the ranking as a way to catalogue players, notes, and data in a non-alphabetical way. The information within the profiles is far, far more valuable.
  3. I mentioned I’m not a scout right? If not, I’m not a scout.
  4. I appreciate all questions, comments, and criticism. You can reach me on Twitter (@MitchLBrown) or email (mitchbrown31@gmail.com). You can also tell me I suck. I don’t care.
  5. AHL/CHL/USHL Stats: Prospect-Stats.com | NCAA Stats: CollegeHockeyInc.com | SuperElit Stats: Stats.SweHockey.se | NHL Stats: Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

The list so far…

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One Response to 2017 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #8 Josh Brook

  1. This is by far the most informative and thorough prospects chronicle that I’ve seen around for the HABS scene. In all honesty, Summer is hard for the geeky-fans looking for some fresh and challenging information. So thanks so much for this. [and kudos for the methodological reflection and honesty]

    Dan August 7, 2017 at 11:00 am Reply

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