Adam Brooks has always been a personal favourite of mine. He was a late bloomer but had some monster years in the WHL. He was an overage pick, and seemed like a “Jack of All Trades but Master of None” despite his gaudy point totals. He had a rough start to his first AHL season, but really picked it up later in the year and in the playoffs.
After being ranked at #16 in the 2018 edition of our T25U25, this year his rank falls to #19. You might see that and think that he had another disappointing year in the AHL, so is that the case? Mostly no, but there’s a but of yes there too.
2019 Was Adam Brooks’ Breakout Season
The good news about Brooks is that he had a superb season in 2019 compared to 2018. He more than doubled his previous year’s totals in goals (19 vs 8) and points (40 vs 19). He also doubled his shot rate from 1.21 per game to 2.41 per game. He also finished the AHL playoffs tied for the team lead in goals with 6 in 13 games.
You could tell early that he was ready for a breakout. In the pre-season, he got pretty high praise from Babcock after his play during exhibition games. He got more praise from Sheldon Keefe all through the season and the playoffs too. When Chris Mueller went down with injury later in the year, Brooks became their de factor no. 1 center and he ran with it.
In 12 March games, he had 5 goals, 6 assists and 49(!!) shots on goal while he filled in for Mueller. Even after Mueller returned, Brooks was leaned on heavily by Keefe:
Sheldon Keefe reveals that C Adam Brooks has been leading all #Marlies forwards in TOI during the majority of the playoffs. Keefe says he’s seen an extra jump in Brooks’ game as of late (6 pts in last 7 playoff gp, including a hat trick in game three of round one ). #Leafsforever— Jacob Stoller (@JLStoller) May 15, 2019
It says a lot about Brooks that his coach relied on him so much, despite being younger, less experienced, and not having as good a regular season over all in Mueller. He was used in all situations, not just staying out for all the power plays.
Brooks basically seems like the anti-Bracco. Where Bracco has extremely special skills that get you and I excited, Brooks has the all-round game that gets his coaches and teammates excited.
When speaking to the media after their playoff run ended, Brooks summarized it similarly (credit to Hardev for transcribing this back in the spring):
I feel like I picked up a lot. the first year didn’t overly go as well as I wanted to throughout the regular season. Into the playoffs I felt like I gained some confidence and played better. Coming into the season I felt really good after a summer of training here [in Toronto] after the way the playoffs went last year. The opportunities I was given this year from Sheldon [Keefe] to grow as a player and as a person were great. I thought I took some big steps and I want to get better this summer and hopefully take a bigger step next season.
I’m going to do the same thing I did last year [in order to prepare for next year]. I’m going to spend a lot of time here, I think that’s best for me. This organization has a great staff. I’ve said it many times, I think there’s no organization in the league that gets players ready the way that this organization does. I think here is the best place for me. I’m going to spend a lot of time here and do everything the on-ice coaches say, the strength coaches, the leafs, and of course Trevor [St. Agathe], and get ready for next season.
With Chris Mueller moving on to the Syracuse Crunch, Brooks will be ready to fill in again as the top line center on the Marlies. Except... will he?
2020 Is Brooks’ Make or Break Year
Here’s the problem with Brooks, much as I still love him. He’s 23 years old. He hasn’t made the NHL yet or really started to enter the conversation for it as much as Moore (who already got a shot), or even Bracco, Engvall and Marchment. You can read Hardev saying exactly this in his look at Marlies who are likely to make the jump this year.
This season, he spent a large portion of the middle of the season playing as the Marlies’ first-line centre while Mueller was out with injury. The Marlies didn’t win much in this time, but enough to get them into the playoffs.
Brooks is generally passable in a lot of areas that he plays in, whether it be skating, shooting, or puck handling, but he knows where to be when he’s on the ice (he penalty kills with Engvall), he can stand his ground and play a smart game in front of the net, and he’s getting better all the time. This prospect will likely take some more years of developing, but he might be a new-age fourth-liner in the future. Maybe as good as Nic Petan!
That joke at the end touches on his problem. Is he better than Petan? Is he even better than Gauthier? What about all the other center depth Dubas signed for the Leafs and for the Marlies? Spezza and Shore get added to Petan and Gauthier. Mueller is getting replaced by Kalle Kossila and Tyler Gaudet on the Marlies.
So where does this put Brooks? Well, he’s right at the age where he isn’t young for a prospect anymore. His coach loved him, Babcock likes the look of him, but he still needs to take another big step to his game. I think you can read his quote above and guess that he knows it too. He needs to get a bit faster, a bit better at shooting, a bit better with the puck, and all that good stuff.
He needs to not just be one of the best centers in the AHL, he needs to be clearly superior to other career AHLers like Mueller as well as Kossila. He needs to put up the points, he needs to shoot the puck like he’s a machine gun, he needs to be able to kill penalties and rack up points on the power play (or at least be able to).
For comparison, two other former Marlies that recently made the jump to the NHL are Trevor Moore and Andreas Johnsson. Both of them are 24 right now, and both of them have already established themselves (to different degrees) as capable NHLers. This coming season is where Brooks has to follow in their footsteps to be clearly too good for the AHL.
What Other Voters Said About Brooks
Fulemin: It feels like I’ve gone to bat for Adam Brooks for four straight years now, but I really like him. He sounds to me like the Kyle Dubas picks we’ve been seeing (despite him being drafted in the Lamoriello-Hunter era): a small but smart player, drafted as an overager, who has improved steadily each year, who can be played in different situations and is trusted by his coaches. I’m not saying that makes him any kind of NHL lock, but he feels to me a bit like Connor Brown: I could see him showing up in the NHL in a year or two and being a hardworking, competent bottom-sixer. That’s worth something.
Kevin: Brooks needed to take a big step forward after scoring just 19 points in 57 games in his rookie year, and he did just that. He more than doubled his point production this year, while also turning into a key penalty killer who Sheldon Keefe trusts. He’s undersized and a mediocre skater, but he’s defensively-responsible and makes smart plays. He played a little bit on the wing this year, and I liked him there, as it allowed him to take on more of an offensive role and show off his playmaking ability. I’d like to see him play a mix of centre and wing next year, but he’s put himself in a good position by proving that he can kill penalties. However, when you’re small and not that fast, it’s usually an uphill battle to make it.
Hardev: Brooks isn’t the best skater, or the best shooter, but he’s a smart player who knows where he needs to be in all three zones and gets there at the right time. I think he got a chip on his shoulder with the increased responsibility and that translated into a much more aggressive style around the net. He scored a lot of his goals off rebounds in the slot and the flowing nature of his line with Bracco and Timashov really worked to his advantage.
Hopefully Brooks can build on last season and get even more involved in the offense (contrarily, hopefully Bracco helps Brooks by getting more involved in the defense). Brooks has always been a late bloomer and finds his scoring touch later than most. He has the base ability to be a solid AHLer, what will determine his NHL upside is what he can add offensively.
I’m not nearly like Kevin or Scott and able to break down video highlights, but I can pick out the flashes that Brooks can show. Here, you can see him be creative in making plays with a cheeky little flip pass:
Adam Brooks is playing in his first game of the year, and he just made a gorgeous pass to spring Moore on a breakaway.— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) November 2, 2018
Moore quickly took advantage. pic.twitter.com/W1pKsN6dq7
Here, you can see Brooks handling the puck through the neutral zone and entering the offensive zone with possession, before setting up Carcone for a goal:
Carcone picks the top corner to give the Marlies a 2-1 lead. Nice entry from Adam Brooks to set it up pic.twitter.com/ztAhkwHDdi— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) January 5, 2019
Here, we see Brooks playing without the puck and going to the spot he needed to be at in order to score the goal.
So that’s the situation with Brooks. He seems like he’s still getting better, but at 23 he’s running out of time for him to get good enough for the NHL. The good news is he was showing more and more down the stretch last year that he might be able to. The bad news is he has a lot of center depth to climb over now.
Kevin mentioned he might be more valuable on the wing, and that would certainly be an easier path for him especially since he would be a left winger — a position the Leafs are relatively weak at.
So what do you all think?
How did we do in ranking Brooks 19th?