Six weeks ago, a lot of people lost their minds over the bevy of picks that the Toronto Maple Leafs made on the draft podium in Buffalo. After all, it wasn’t a bunch of skilled, young, often undersized skaters like last year. There were old (relatively speaking) players. Big players. Tough players. Goalies. GOALIES!
There’s an aura of wait and see to the whole ordeal. My mindset was that I didn’t know, and it was okay.
But if there’s one thing I’m pretty sure of, it’s that Adam Brooks was the most 2015-like selection of the draft. In fact, the 20-year-old might be their best value pick of the last two drafts, and might have some of the highest upside in the system. Hear me out.
|Jeff||Ryan H.||Shawn||Ryan F.||Adam||Dom||Jess||Katy||Readers|
This is Brooks’ first preseason in the Leafs’ system.
|C||Winnipeg, MB||5’11||176||Left||Regina Pats||2016 Draft (4-92nd)|
While everybody pointed to Brooks being 20 years old when he was drafted, it’s worth noting that he has a May birthdate and actually just played his Age 19 year. And boy did he ever; he led the WHL in points with 120 (!!), scoring more this year than he did in the entire three years prior.
His NHLe of 36.9 is the third-highest Age 19 total of any player in the system; only Connor Brown’s final year in Erie and William Nylander’s 2015/16 AHL season involved better league-equivalenced production.
|pGPSn||pGPSs||pGPS%||pGPS PPG||pGPS PP82||pGPSr|
|20 (16/18)||9 (14/18)||45.0% (6/18)||0.60 (7/18)||49.58 (7/18)||27.21 (7/21)|
- pGPSn: The number of matches between the subject and the player-seasons (one season by a single player, i.e, John Tavares 2008 OHL) in the historical sample.
- pGPSs: The number of statistical matches that became NHL regulars. This is determined by playing 200 NHL games.
- pGPS%: Simply s divided by n, this is the percentage of statistical matches that successfully became NHL players.
- pGPS PPG: The NHL points per game of successful matches.
- pGPS P82: The same as pGPS PPG, but stretched over 82 games.
- pGPSr: A bit of a hybrid number, this pGPS Rating combines the percentage and points per game to produce a number that includes both likelihood of success and potential upside.
Based on the success of his historical comparables, Brooks is projected to become a middle-six forward.
To learn more about the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System, check out this post.
The Eye Test
Brooks is a little smaller at 5’11, 176, but is a skilled and instinctive forward. As you often hear about players like him, Brooks’ greatest skill is his hockey IQ. While he does possess above average skating ability, particularly in terms of pulling off quick cuts and shifts in direction, it’s his ability to create open space and lead his teammates into the direction of scoring threat areas that sets him apart.
His ability to read the play also benefits him defensively. While not overly physical and not an aggressive forechecker, Brooks is often able to get into a position where he limits the scoring options of his opponents.
Brooks’ shot is good, but not particularly elite. Most of his goals come from being getting into dangerous areas. That’s something that can be improved on with a skills coach, though, and I have no doubt that the Leafs would do so.
Overall, there’s not a physical talent that stands out in particular, and that perhaps might be an issue, but it also means that we’re talking about a player who puts up points at will with room to grow.
As Seen on TV
Some people have show concern for the fact that Brooks has become such a sudden point producer, believing that it might be a case of him getting lucky or that that being older than his peers has given him such a lopsided advantage. I don’t think it’s that simple.
I looked back into the ancient ghosts of the now-defunct CHLStats, and their estimated time on ice formula had his 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons at less than ten minutes per game, with non-existent powerplay time. It’s not something that makes a ton of sense, either, given that Regina were awful in his rookie year, winning just 25 games with a roster led by Morgan Klimchuk and Chandler Stephensen, and not a ton better in the year that followed.
Under John Paddock, though, Brooks was given a new lease on life and played a more prominent role in the 2014/15 team. They weren’t great, winning just over half of their games and squeaking into the playoffs, but Brooks suddenly became the team’s scoring leader, leapfrogging players who had doubled and tripled him the year prior. That was enough to get him ranked by central scouting, but not enough to get him drafted.
This year, he was put into the driver’s seat once again, and he exploded. Including the playoffs, he picked up 143 points in 84 games, which was one of the best totals in all of major junior hockey.
Surely, there’s nothing left for him to prove in junior, right? Unless you want to see him take a run at the WHL points record, we’re talking about a skater who is eligible to go pro in the AHL and ECHL, both in terms of his age and his junior career length.
Brooks doesn’t have an ELC yet, but I could see him signing one in the next few weeks and joining the Marlies this season. The team is relatively short on natural centres as it is, so fighting for a top six role with powerplay time on a post-Nylander and Arcobello roster doesn’t sound overly insane.
It also gets him closer to Toronto’s coaching staff, so they can work on improving his physical skillset. Adam Brooks with a great shot? With great skating ability? With a physically imposing forecheck? With a strong centre of gravity? I don’t know which of these are possible, but if he’s the WHL equivalent of Goku with a “just okay” skillset, who knows what’s next?
Many were floored by the idea of drafting a 20-year-old in the first four rounds of the draft (I was a bit shocked that they didn’t draft a 21-year-old, but I digress). But looking at this pick that way is the wrong way to look at it.
Consider it a bit of a second chance, and a bit of accelerated development. The Leafs drafted 5’11 Connor Brown with a 6th round pick in a season where he produced reasonably well with Erie. The next year, his age 18-19 year, he was a near point per game forward. He followed that up with a 128 point 19-20 year.
People questioned Brown’s lack of glaring physical talents, wondering how far his IQ and hard work could possibly bring him. In his 20-21 AHL season, he put up 61 points. This year, he was near a point per game in both his 34 AHL games and 7 games with the Leafs. Brown is now a beloved Leafs prospect at 22.
Now, imagine that maybe Adam Brooks is the Connor Brown of the west coast. Except it took him an extra year or two to convince a coach to let him try to score. Except he’s a May birthdate, rather than a January. Except his super-Saiyan junior year came with Sam Steel and a few other unknowns, rather than Connor McDavid, Andre Burakovsky, Dylan Strome, and Dane Fox playing on Rookie Difficulty.
History won’t necessarily repeat itself, but when a player becomes this good this fast once given the opportunity, you have to wonder if the Leafs managed to pull something special from under everyone’s nose.