Maple Leafs hoping to cash in on mid-round late bloomers


Regina Pats' forward Adam Brooks. (Marissa Baecker/Getty)

Regina Pats centre Adam Brooks led the WHL in scoring last season with 38 goals and 120 points in 72 games, with a +41 plus-minus.

Despite missing a month of the season while he was at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ training camp, Brooks is back on top of the list of league scorers again this season and his numbers are even more impressive: In 21 games he has 14 goals and 33 assists and is already a +24. He’s the key player for the CHL’s top ranked team.

The Pats have lost but two games in regulation all season.

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The Maple Leafs drafted Brooks with the first pick of the fourth round last June and the question that hangs out there: How did he not get drafted until his third year of eligibility?

“I think players do get missed [in the draft year],” the native of Winnipeg says. “It comes down to opportunity. I just didn’t have a chance to get a lot of ice time in my first couple of seasons.”

The stats back that up: four goals and 12 points in 55 games as a 16-year-old; four goals and 11 points in 60 games in his draft year. At 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, he would have blended into the scenery in his first two seasons with the Pats. NHL Central Scouting Service didn’t have him on its radar going into the 2014 draft—he was nowhere to be found among CSS’s ranking of 210 draft-eligible North American skaters.

“I thought I could play if I had a chance,” he says. “I honestly believed that.”

No doubt, but you have to suspect that even he couldn’t imagine how his game would take flight the next two seasons, when the Pats turned to John Paddock as coach. In 2014-15 Brooks scored 30 goals and added 32 assists. CSS noticed him but didn’t look at him as a world-beater, not including him in the mid-term rankings and only adding him to their final list at No. 176 among North American skaters going into the 2015 entry draft.

Brooks had some hope of getting drafted but again went uncalled. During the summer the New York Rangers invited him as a free-agent to their rookie camp but decided not to sign him to a deal.

“I thought I had a good camp [with the Rangers] but it just didn’t happen.”

It’s easy to see the Rangers’ viewpoint—lots of players score 30 goals as 18-year-olds and don’t have a game that translates to the next level.

There was no missing Brooks last season, though. CSS’s rankings were a pretty good predictor of where he’d land in the NHL entry draft. He was No. 107 in the mid-terms and 72 on the final list. The Leafs wound up taking five players who had been undrafted in their first year of eligibility, a bit out of the box as a draft strategy goes, but Brooks’s selection was not such a dramatic play as you might think.

Others were in the hunt.

“I knew the Leafs had an interest in me,” he says. “They brought me in for interviews and testing and Chicago and Buffalo did as well.”

Based on the draft pick the Leafs spent on Brooks and with seemingly not much left to prove in the WHL, you might have suspected that he’d have landed with the Marlies this season rather than returning to the Pats as an overager. And despite what he considered a great experience and getting into exhibitions with the AHL affiliate, Toronto staffers told him that they wanted him back in Regina for a fifth season.

“Any player wants to make that step up but [the Leafs] are in charge,” Brooks says. “It’s their call.”

And you can understand it. He’ll definitely get more ice time with the Pats than he would with the Marlies who have a surplus of bodies on hand. And while this is Brooks’s fifth season with the Pats, he’s only been played the past three. It’s hard to see how he got lost in the shuffle—he came to the Pats as a second-round pick in the WHL bantam draft. Pat Conacher was Regina’s coach in Brooks’s rookie season and Malcolm Cameron took over the following year.

Not to throw them under the bus but looking at their rosters, the coaches had a bunch of 18- and 19-year-olds ahead of Brooks on the depth charts. Still, you throw a second-rounder into the fray. Paddock came in and gave Brooks a fresh start and found a good complement to his game with winger Austin Wagner who was selected by the Kings in the fourth round of 2015.

The Leafs’ draft last June will be interesting to track going forward. Their second-rounder, No. 31 overall, right winger Yegor Korshkov was the highest profile of those players who were in the their second or third years of draft eligibility. Again, like Brooks, the selection of Korshkov might look like a bold play but in fact he was seventh on CSS’s list of international skaters last spring—a late-first or early-second is exactly where you’d think he’d land even though he’s a 1996 birthday.

He was tearing it up with Yaroslavl until a week ago when he broke his leg, an injury that will keep him on the sidelines for at least two months. His agent Stas Romanov said that Korshkov has another year on his contract after the 2016-17 season but he wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Korshkov would be in North America next fall.

Another Russian drafted by the Leafs last June was not playing in the KHL but figures to get some needed ice time soon. Toronto selected left winger Vladimir Bobylev, a 1997-birthday, with a fifth-round pick after he had poured in 30 goals as an import with Victoria in the WHL.

This fall he went back to Moscow Spartak with the idea of getting KHL experience and pulling down pro wages. Only the latter applied. He scarcely played with the big club and was dropped from the roster. Though attempts to contact Victoria management were unsuccessful, the word from his agency is that it’s highly likely he’ll be back with the WHL club in the near future.

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