Fourth round picks don't often lead the Canadian Hockey League in scoring. They don't often register 225 points in 123 games either.
But Adam Brooks, the Maple Leafs' overaged 92nd overall at the 2016 NHL Draft, isn't your average fourth rounder. He's already a First-Team All-Star and the reigning Western Hockey League scoring champion after posting 120 points in 72 games and 23 more in 12 playoff contests. This year, in his first season as the Regina Pats' captain, he might repeat on both fronts. Through 39 games, Brooks sits second in WHL scoring with 82 points.
In the last two seasons, no player in the CHL has registered more points than Brooks.
In a 2016 draft class where, after Auston Matthews, the Leafs went with bigger, lower-ceiling players than in 2015 when they selected high-skill talents like Jeremy Bracco and Dmytro Timashov, Brooks was an anomaly.
Defenders Nicolas Mattinen (179th overall), Keaton Middleton (101st overall), and J.D. Greenway (72nd overall) have yet to show they have the puck handling ability to develop into serious options at the professional level. Victoria Royals teammates Vladimir Bobylev (122nd overall) and Jack Walker (152nd overall) both have redeeming traits -- the former's skating has come a long way for a player of his size and the latter has a lethal release -- but neither are exciting talents. Nikolai Chebykin, the team's final pick of the class, has yet to establish him in the KHL and remains a long way away from consideration for an entry-level deal. Yegor Korshkov, another powerful winger, is still recovering from a broken leg, an injury that could prove tough to fight back from at such a young age. And Carl Grundstrom, the next most promising of the bunch, projects as a solid forechecking forward who generates shots but tends not to pass (ever).
Brooks is different.
Already in his fifth and final season in the WHL, Brooks was passed up in his first crack at the NHL draft when he was buried on a Regina Pats team that iced high-end talent like Morgan Klimchuck up front. In 2015, despite leading the Pats in scoring with 62 points in 64 games, Brooks was passed on again.
Now 5-11 and 176 pounds, Brooks' size isn't the concern it once was. But he's still not a high-end skater. So what has allowed the 20-year-old standout from Winnipeg to become one of the CHL's most dynamic offensive threats, leading the Pats to atop the CHL's weekly team rankings ahead of the Memorial Cup?
It starts with body positioning, patience, and timing.
From the onset of this season, it was clear Brooks was challenging WHL teams in a different way than most of the league's elite forwards do. He doesn't burn defenders with raw speed, he doesn't beat goalies cleanly off the rush with his release, he just makes quick, calculated decisions with the puck.
Take, for example, his most recent game, on Friday night, a two-point performance (one goal, one primary assist on the OT winner).
On the goal, Brooks doesn’t give up on three opportunities at the puck before eventually using solid hand-eye coordination, while falling, to finish off the play.
But, if you watch closely, it was Brooks’ decisions and movement away from the puck that allowed him to get into the position to find the loose puck.
After picking up the puck below the goal line, Brooks moved it to the point, and left the offensive zone completely. By doing so, the Calgary PK rightly diverted their attention to the more serious offensive zone threats. When Brooks re-enters the zone, he does so with space in the high slot, enabling him to watch the play develop and pounce on a mishandled puck at the top of the crease.
On his assist, rather than take charge of the play, Brooks sits back (again) to allow his defensemen to carry the puck up ice and open himself up to survey and anticipate the play.
When the puck is sent on net, and a rebound is given up, it’s only then that Brooks engages, pouncing on a bobble puck at the top of the crease (again). When he retrieves it, he recognizes that Austin Wagner is open cross-crease (in part because he hung behind the play).
Here, again, Brooks doesn’t dictate the play. Instead, he allows the defenders to focus on the primary threat — the puck carrier.
In both cases, while Brooks doesn’t overwhelm Calgary, he makes his mark on the game. The sum, for Brooks, is in the parts.
And while he’s ready to turn pro and could have played all year with the Marlies, it’s unlikely he makes the jump until next year as the Pats pursue a long playoff run and a Memorial Cup bid.