The Leafs’ Diamond in the Rough

Following the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, not much attention was paid to the players selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs beyond the first round, and understandably so. The Leafs had just drafted Auston Matthews first overall; a young man projected to lead Toronto not only back into the playoffs, but, more importantly, to a potential Stanley Cup Championship in the near future.

So, with such being the case, it’s easy to understand why the selection of Adam Brooks in the fourth round, 92nd overall, flew well under the radar.

As a player born in 1996 and, in 2016, one who was in the final year of his NHL Draft eligibility, Brooks’ career in hockey, and the Western Hockey League has been long and tumultuous. However, after failing to live up to expectations in the early days of his WHL career, Brooks has gone on to become one of the league’s top offensive players. Sure, he isn’t your typical ‘big name’ prospect, yet, in the coming years, he could certainly become a major piece of Toronto’s ongoing rebuild.

Defying Expectations

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Originally drafted by the Regina Pats in the second round, 25th overall during the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, to say Brooks’ WHL career got off to a slow start would be somewhat of an understatement. While he made the Pats’ roster as a 16-year-old in 2012-13, his 12 points as a rookie followed by 11 points in his first season of NHL Draft eligibility put an immediate hamper on his individual stock.

However, the arrival of John Paddock as Head Coach of the Pats in 2014-15 brought about an immediate change in Brooks’ game. In his first two WHL seasons, opportunities to succeed were scarcely provided to Brooks, a fact which changed drastically when Paddock began to provide the youngster with playing time respective of his individual skills. In turn, Brooks exploded offensively, scoring 30 goals and 62 points in Paddock’s first season behind the bench.

Yet, despite his breakout play, Brooks was again passed over in the NHL Draft, as no team during the 2015 event was truly convinced by his play.

So, Brooks set out to defy his critics in 2015-16.

Come the end of the campaign, Brooks had scored 38 goals and recorded 82 assists, good for a total of 120 points. Further, not only did all of his totals set new career highs, but Brooks’ immense point total ranked the best in the entire WHL, beating out notable NHL prospects such as Jayce Hawryluk, Nolan Patrick, Mathew Barzal and Brayden Point in the process.

As a result, Brooks’ determination finally paid off, as he was drafted by the Leafs in the 2016 NHL Draft.

The Scouting Report

Throughout his career, Brooks, like many, has been hounded by the long-enduring question of whether or not size matters at the NHL level. At 5’11”, 180 pounds, Brooks is a smaller player, but he, like Mitch Marner, has been able to shed this fact through his highly skilled style of play.

In short, Brooks’ game revolves around speed and puck skills.

As an incredibly fast, shifty, and agile skater, Brooks has the ability to drive wide at top speed and uses his sound footwork and edges to create space between him and opposing defenders. Further, Brooks’ skating allows him to move quickly and efficiently in the offensive zone, providing him greater opportunities to generate offense.

Next, there are Brooks’ skills with the puck, which are arguably the greatest asset which he possesses. As a pass-first style of playmaker, Brooks has the ability to dish the puck off of the rush or maneuver in tight situations before finding an open teammate with a crisp pass. Then, there is his shot, which is widely considered to be above-average given its velocity and Brooks’ ability to quickly release the puck. What’s more is that his shot is accurate, allowing Brooks to pick an open corner from the slot, or in close to the net.

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In addition to Brooks’ skating and puck skills is his mental acuity. Fortunate to retain fantastic hockey sense, Brooks finds open teammates with ease and has the intelligence to either force an opportunity when warranted or to hold on to the puck and allow the play to develop around himself. As a smart, calculated player, Brooks can shoot or pass the puck, and has the willingness to compete for possession in numerous battles on a nightly basis while drawing significant powerplay and penalty kill time.

However, Brooks is not a perfect player and has his faults like all others. In his case, Brooks’ biggest struggle to date has been his play in the defensive end. Now, this is not to say that he is completely invisible in his own zone, but rather that he needs to establish himself physically as well as ensure he is covering opposing players at all times.

Blue-Chip Prospect or Long-Term Project?

So, is Brooks a truly legitimate NHL prospect of substantial potential, or is he instead a long-term project who will play the vast majority of his professional career in varying levels of minor hockey?

Well, as we have seen, Brooks is a tremendously skilled and dangerous player on the ice and one who is capable of being an elite offensive threat on a nightly basis. Currently in the final season of his WHL career, this season, and the one following of 2017-18, will be of the utmost importance to Brooks’ development. As a 20-year-old player in 2016-17, Brooks should once again excel in the WHL, but will his success ultimately translate into the professional ranks?

If Brooks is to become a prospect of immense potential for the Leafs in the near future, he will need to enjoy a seamless adaptation to the professional game. In all likelihood, Brooks should start the 2017-18 season in Toronto with the Marlies. If he is able to carry his offensive prowess into the AHL, like Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown and Brendan Leipsic before him, Brooks could absolutely find himself on Toronto’s NHL radar in the next few years.

If the success of Marner in 2016-17, as well as the likes of Brad Marchand and Tyler Ennis in the past have taught the hockey world anything, it is the players of smaller stature can become immense contributors at the NHL level. In the case of Brooks, it would appear as though the Leafs have found yet another diamond in the rough, and one which could become a key component in their rebuilding process.