BROSSARD - A second-round pick in 2017, defenseman Josh Brook has been a source of much excitement for Canadiens fans looking to the future.
The 20-year-old tied Dawson Davidson for most points by a defenseman in the Western Hockey League (WHL) last season after dealing with injury problems in previous years, and believes he was able to build momentum for himself in his final year of Junior by not getting stuck on the shelf.
"Probably confidence and health. I was healthy," Brook listed as the reasons for his 16-goal, 75-point output with the Moose Jaw Warriors in 2018-19. "And the years before, I didn't have any injury but I was only 17. Being older and learning, being healthy and everything, it just worked for me. Our power play was really good. We had some really good forwards, so that helped a lot."
Brook will be turning pro this coming season and has enjoyed taking instruction from Laval Rocket head coach Joel Bouchard at rookie camp.
"He's a really good coach. He's very honest and very fair with you," praised Brook, who played seven games under Bouchard in Laval after the Warriors were eliminated from the playoffs last spring. "He lets you know what he needs to let you know, and he's been very good to me."
Video: Josh Brook on his opportunity at Rookie Camp
The Rocket bench boss noted that Brook didn't rest on his laurels following a strong campaign in the WHL, rather, taking it upon himself to spend his summer getting even better and showing up to camp in top form.
"In the summer, what I did is I give homework sheets to everybody at the end of the year. I say, 'This is your homework. This is what you need to do.' I expect nothing less out of this: on the ice, off the ice, body fat... those are your targets," explained Bouchard. "Josh spent most of the summer [in Brossard] and he's been like a lot of the guys that spend time here. They've done their homework, they've checked their boxes. I'm demanding; I'm hard, I know. But in the end, I told them this morning, 'Great job guys.' They came, they pushed, they got better. Are they perfect yet? No. But there's been growth on everything that we asked."
For Bouchard, the work Brook put in shows how serious he is about plying his trade at the highest level.
"He's a professional, he cares. He wants to be a hockey player and that I always knew. He's willing to understand and accept teaching and direction. It's fun as a coach to have a guy who is taking direction," added Bouchard, who's entering his second season as Rocket skip. "There are things that need to be better in his game, like everybody else. He's knows that's no different than any other guy. He's a young defenseman and it's a tough position. He's showing really good growth as a person and as a hockey player. He's putting in the work. He came in great shape. He's wants to be better. He's passionate. He has a goal to be an NHL player."
With the Habs' rookies headed to Belleville, ON to take on their counterparts in the Ottawa Senators' and Winnipeg Jets' systems, the buses will be chock full of players with that very same goal.
For players like Cale Fleury, the upcoming Rookie Tournament games provide the perfect opportunity to demonstrate their progress.
"I just want to show that I'm ready to make the next step. I'm trying to make the Montreal Canadiens this year," described Fleury, who played 60 games for the Rocket in his first campaign as a pro last season. "I think that's everybody's goal here but especially for myself, I want to prove that I'm ready to at least get a couple games in and try to prove myself in the NHL."
The Carlyle, SK native is trying to stand out with his play both at camp and in the tournament - while trying to limit his mistakes, of course.
"That's definitely part of it. And when you're playing with a group for a short time like this, it's kind of hard to get the chemistry up. So it might be a little choppy out on the ice and kind of different than what you're used to. Especially with new systems and everything for the other rookies coming in," described Fleury, who recorded 23 points (9G, 14A) in his first season in the AHL. "Just really focusing on the system the coaches give us will help us out with that."
Video: Cale Fleury on hoping to crack the Habs roster
Bouchard didn't announce his lineup for Saturday night's contest against the Sens' rookies before leaving Brossard, but he did say that the rookie camp's two goalies - Cayden Primeau and Alexis Shank - would each get a game over the weekend. He also said that Nick Suzuki will be featured both up the middle and on the wing, while Ryan Poehling will be slotted in at center.
The Habs-Sens rookie matchup gets underway on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. at CAA Arena in Belleville, ON.