If you scored just four goals and 11 points in 64 WHL games as a forward in your draft year, would you believe you had a shot at the NHL? Sure, a lot of undrafted players eventually make it. But would you actually believe you could do it? Adam Brooks, for one, never gave up—and the Toronto Maple Leafs rewarded him.
A 5-foot-11 centre, Brooks' path isn't easy. He works hard to fulfil his dreams, though. One goal at a time.
Following a disappointing season of first-time draft eligibility, Brooks exploded to 30 goals and 62 points in 2014-15. And when that still wasn't enough to get drafted, he almost doubled his point output in 2015-16, netting 38 goals along with a whopping 84 assists.
That's when the Leafs came in. In the fourth round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Brooks finally heard his name called. And to prove that his CHL-best 120 points weren't a fluke, he went out again in 2016-17 and beat that total with 43 goals and 87 helpers.
With that, Adam Brooks is finally there. He's finally made it.
Onto the PPP Top 25 Under 25 list, that is.
What the scouts say
So, who is Adam Brooks and what can he do? I asked Future Considerations WHL scout Justin Froese (@FroeseFC).
A small, fluid player who can drive a play due to his cerebral skill set. He has puck skill and a shooter's acumen with his ability to hide the puck, but is usually selfless, using his upper-tier sensibility to elude opposition pressure and be a pass-first type of offensive player. His skating was good for the level, but he isn't one I would call dynamic in a point-A-to-B foot race. Lots of offensive tools here and really grew after his first-year eligibility into a bonafide two-way player and leader. That being said, he's physically underwhelming and a master of none, dominating as a vet on a stacked team.
Okay, that's some promising analysis. But what can we expect from someone who struggled in his draft year and only turned into a convincing prospect as a WHL veteran?
Justin had some thoughts about that too.
I like what he did the last two years to get himself on the map, but it's going to be hard for him to crack a top six like Toronto's in the foreseeable future. I see him as a minor-pro guy for a while before getting an NHL opportunity. Will need to keep evolving to find a niche.
That actually matches our staff’s opinions quite well.
What the staff say
If we go by the numbers, Brooks looks like a player with elite talent. Despite spending most of his ice time with rather average line mates (Austin Wagner and Filip Ahl combined for just 114 points last season), Brooks was excellent in every scoring category.
Looking at the charts above, Brooks' worst stat is his secondary assists per 60. As we know, assists in general are not easily repeatable and subject to heavy fluctuation, even more so with secondary assists. If we look at what really matters, primary point production, Brooks is literally off the charts, with 1.61 primary points per game.
So what is it that led Katya Knappe to ranking Brooks 21st? Here's what she said.
I essentially ignored his most recent year of junior results. I don't think overage scoring means much. I based my feeling that he's good but maybe not really good enough to move beyond the AHL on his play last year with the Marlies in pre-season. He's got a big hill to climb to go from owning the junior game to playing meaningfully as a centre in the AHL, and his first crack at it showed me why he went back to junior. I was not on team 'he's ready now' last summer. I thought he looked like a very small player who had gotten by on his offensive skills and had too little else to offer. He says he's worked on that. Well, let's see it.
When Fulemin said last year that one of these guys is the guy he'd feel foolish for underrating, he thought it might be Grundstrom. This year, for me, I feel that might be Brooks. I hope so. That would be a great way to be wrong.
Speaking of Fulemin, he wasn't very high on Brooks either, ranking him just two spots higher than Katya. Here's why.
Pretty much everyone in the Top 25 is going into a significant year, but it's truer for Brooks than maybe anyone else. He's overripened in the WHL and he's already 21; we really need to see what he can do in a pro league. He doesn't wow you with raw skills, but it's hard to ask him to do more than he did at the level he was at. In other words: on a list with a lot of wait-and-sees, Brooks is almost through the waiting stage and into the seeing stage.
But, there are some who believe in him as well. “Some” sounds like a larger number than what it actually is, but Kevin Papetti sure does seem to like Brooks.
I’m not sure if Brooks will walk into the AHL and star, but I think he's a top 15 under-25 player in this system for sure. Even if you tier it. I have him behind the NHLers, but still in a pretty solid tier.
Brooks in action
We don't want to leave you without a quick look at what Brooks can do, so let's dive into some footage.
As Justin Froese pointed out, Brooks has a strong shot which he doesn't just fire off whenever he gets a chance to. Rather, he waits for the shot blockers and goalie to make a move while keeping his feet moving himself, until he can eventually let a quick, accurate shot go.
Another thing Justin mentioned is Brooks' ability to set up scoring chances with smart passes. Here, Brooks is pressured by a defenceman but protects the puck well before playing a perfect cross-ice spin pass to set up a goal. This not only takes vision and puck skills, but also the ability to combine the two.
To cap things off, we have another excellent goal. Brooks gets open for a stretch pass but his teammate throws the puck at him before he's ready. Instead of switching into forecheck mode and waiting for the defence to recover the puck, Brooks turns on the afterburners, rushes past an opponent and puts one home.
Unfortunately, I joined PPP when voting for the series had already closed (and therefore never even made a list to share with you now). I do, however, agree with most that's been said here.
Brooks obviously took major strides after his disappointing first year of draft eligibility. But we also know that production heavily correlates with age in junior hockey. Therefore, it would be foolish to look solely at his production and expect him to become an NHL superstar. In fact, it would be foolish to expect a guaranteed NHL player at all.
That said, Brooks certainly has some tools that could allow him to have a successful professional career. He has no major standout puck skills and is not known for his skating either. However, he has very high hockey IQ, a well-rounded offensive toolkit, and solid two-way capability.
But let's return to the opening question: Would you believe in an NHL career with just 11 WHL points in your draft year? Personally, I would have my doubts. So seeing that Brooks never gave up and worked his way to being one of the CHL's star players is incredible and deserves a lot of respect.
He may never score 100 points at the NHL level, but I am sure he'll carve his path into the league. One goal at a time.