In some ways, it has been a great summer for Josh Brook despite the fact he hasn’t played since the AHL season came to an end. However, he’s also basically heading into a make-or-break season when it comes to his NHL potential.
Even though he was highly productive by the end of his junior career, Brook was expected to be a bit of a longer-term project; it would take time to learn what worked in junior wouldn’t necessarily work in the minors. That’s a lesson he has learned the hard way a few times already and the end result was a rookie season that saw him primarily play on the third pairing.
That’s perfectly fine for a first-year pro but improvement would be needed quickly. Brook was a bit better last season and saw a fair bit of action on the second pairing but he was hardly showing that he was NHL-ready. In fact, he lined up as a forward at times down the stretch. Yes, part of that was by necessity but the fact they opted to move him up front and not a lesser defender was still noteworthy. There was some progress made but plenty of work to go.
So why has this been a great summer for Brook? He has moved up the depth chart by default. It sure sounds like Shea Weber isn’t coming back anytime soon if at all and Cale Fleury, who played ahead of Brook in Laval, is now in Seattle. While I really like the signing of Louie Belpedio for Laval, he shouldn’t be seeing much action with the Habs. And with Chris Wideman currently holding down a roster spot despite not being in the NHL the last two years, there’s definitely room for Brook to further move up the depth chart with a strong start to next season.
2021-22 is going to be a critical year for Brook as a result. First, there’s the contractual element. It’s the final season of his entry-level deal and he’ll want to ensure he’s qualified (which seems quite likely) and earn as high of an AHL salary as possible.
More importantly, there’s the question of what role he’ll have this time a year from now. If he has a strong season and makes a push towards getting recalled, he could play his way onto Montreal’s roster on a full-time basis as he’ll be waiver-eligible in 2022-23. On the other hand, if he can’t leapfrog Belpedio on the depth chart and become a bigger threat at both ends, Brook could be viewed as more organizational filler than a piece of the future.
There’s certainly a lot at stake for Brook next season as a result. The opportunity has been handed to him on a silver platter pretty much by default but the 22-year-old now needs to step up and take advantage of it and really cement himself as part of Montreal’s future plans.