TORONTO -- Three years ago, center Adam Brooks did not hear his name called at the 2014 NHL Draft. For an undersized player who had 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 115 games with Regina of the Western Hockey League to that point, an NHL career did not seem likely.
But the following season, John Paddock took over as Regina's coach, put Brooks (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) in an offensive role and the 21-year old has not looked back since. He had 62 points (30 goals, 32 assists) in 64 games in 2014-15, followed that up by leading the WHL in scoring in 2015-16 with 120 points (38 goals, 82 assists) in 72 games and was selected in the fourth round (No. 92) in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Last season, he finished second in WHL scoring with 130 points (43 goals, 87 assists) in 66 games.
"I don't think it was too much," Brooks said when asked what changes he made to his game after his first two seasons at the junior level. "It was more just confidence with the puck. Instead of getting it off my stick every time I touched it, I tried to be a little bit more confident with it. John Paddock and the coaching staff changed my game completely and just allowed me to play, so I owe everything to them. I wouldn't be here without them."
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Despite the disappointment of not being drafted in his first year of eligibility, Brooks said he did his best to keep a positive mindset.
"I think you always want to believe and you always want to continue to work hard. When I was 18 at the start of the season, I had an interview with someone and I said, 'Your career is never over until you think it's over,' " Brooks said. "Inside, I never thought it was over. I just continued to work hard and with the help of John I was able to improve my game and get to where I am. I just want to continue to work and build on my game and see where it takes me."
The Maple Leafs rewarded Brooks with a three-year entry-level contract in June, and he figures to play a prominent role with Toronto of the American Hockey League in his first professional season.
"He's a real smart player; I think he does a lot of things really well," said Sheldon Keefe, who coaches AHL Toronto and served as coach for the Maple Leafs rookie team. "The numbers that he was able to produce in junior bring a lot of attention to him. But he's a smart player who has a lot of areas of the game that he can contribute in. I'm excited to see how all of that fits in with our [AHL] group."
Brooks likely requires a full season at the AHL level, but he is a young, talented prospect who adds to the Maple Leafs' depth at center, an area of weakness they identified last season.
"We felt we were real short at center last year, we didn't have enough guys who could play center," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock told NHL.com last month. "We wanted to make sure we were in a better spot that way to have more depth for our lineup, so that's what we've done."
Brooks practiced with the Maple Leafs at the 2017 Rookie Tournament, but did not play in either of their two games. He contracted mononucleosis over the summer and though he has fully recovered, the Maple Leafs held him out of action to ensure he is in top shape for training camp, which begins on Friday.
"You never like watching," Brooks said. "You want to play, but this organization knows what's best for me and they're going to do what's best."
As he embarks on his first year of professional hockey, Brooks said he is confident in the versatility of his game and is willing to play in any role.
"I'm going to do whatever they ask me," Brooks said. "Whether it's playing a defensive role, I've done that in Regina my first two years when obviously the offensive part of my game wasn't really there. Playing in a fourth-line checking role, I've done that. I've played in an offensive role, but it's a tough jump when you jump into the pros. You're not going to come in and score 100 points; that's just the facts. I'm just going to try to work on the little parts of my game, be solid defensively and wherever they tell me to play, I'm going to play.
"Hopefully you develop a little bit more every year that you play. If you're not, you're not going in the right direction."