BROSSARD, Que., – You can tell what kind of skater Josh Brook is just by listening to the sound of his skate blades cutting through the ice. There’s a combination of grace and power to his stride that produces that ultra-crisp noise most players yearn for.
It’s an all-important attribute for a defenceman with NHL ambitions, and Brook certainly has those. If he can put all the other elements together, he’ll graduate from prospect to pro in short order.
But for now, the 19-year-old from Roblin, MN., is just doing what he can to impress at Montreal Canadiens rookie camp, and he’s succeeding at that. Brook has stood out at practice this week, and he made a notable debut Friday night in Laval—evading forecheckers with his speed, skating the puck out of trouble with relative ease, moving the puck efficiently and choosing opportune moments to join the rush.
“I like that he took charge with the puck,” said Canadiens coach Joel Bouchard following the team’s 4-0 loss to a much more experienced Ottawa Senators group. “He’s coming back from an injury. He hasn’t played a lot the last few months, so that’s something that we have to take into consideration.”
Brook, who was chosen 56th overall (second round) in the 2017 NHL Draft, had taken an awkward bump to his right wrist in his first game at last year’s Rookie Showcase, and he had struggled with the injury up until July of this year.
It forced him to miss Canadiens development camp in late June, too.
“I had the surgery done [on Sept. 22, 2017] and I guess I might have come back too early and not done enough to keep it getting better,” Brook said after Saturday’s practice. “I think it affected my play a lot last year. I didn’t feel like I was as strong on the puck, just lifting sticks and things. I feel like I had a lot more to give last year, but I didn’t have it; I didn’t have the strength.”
If that was the case, it certainly wasn’t obvious. At least not at the beginning of his comeback.
Brook was sidelined for nearly three months post-surgery before he returned and collected 16 points in his first 15 games with the Western Hockey League’s Moosejaw Warriors. He finished out the season with 32 points in 45 games, adding only six in 14 playoff games.
Canadiens development coach Francis Bouillon was impressed, nonetheless.
“I worked with him a lot last year and I saw some good things,” said Bouillon on Saturday. “He’s mobile, and I like that because we all know that in today’s game you have to be able to skate and move the puck. He’s got a great hockey sense, too.”
But Brook knows there’s a long road ahead—and a lot to work on—to get to the next level.
“I think just my all around game—everything needs to get better,” he said. “My confidence with the puck, my patience, just jumping up in the play more, and just being stronger in the defensive zone with pins and stuff.”
Bouillon says Brook needs to get stronger, too.
“He’s a little bit light,” the former Canadiens defenceman said. “Once he gets bigger and stronger, he’ll be able to contain players better in his own zone.”
The process is already underway, with the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Brook spending the bulk of this past summer and last training with the Canadiens’ staff in Brossard.
That decision also gave him the opportunity to become more familiar with living in Montreal and enjoying the Old Port and taking in the CFL’s Alouettes and MLS’ Impact games live and in person.
Montrealers unfamiliar with him would want to know that he sees himself as a two-way defenceman who moves the puck well and gets up in the play and likes to create offence, but not at the expense of his defence.
“In an ideal world, I’d like to be an Alex Pietrangelo,” Brook said in admiration of the St. Louis Blues’ top defenceman. “He’s just so solid in all aspects of the game, and he controls the game so well and he’s a great player.”
Brook would love to show he can do that in the NHL as early as this year, but he knows that might not be in the cards with eight defencemen signed to one-way deals with Montreal.
“If I can’t play here, I just want to dominate junior and try to be the best player in the league,” Brook said.
Canadiens fans have to like the sound of that.