Prarie Jesus has risen. Or, at least his stock has to the average fan. Last year, there were a few of us that felt that despite a slow start to his junior career, maybe there was a good reason to believe that Adam Brooks, an over-ager who scored a truckload of points could keep his pace up.

Most, understandably, wanted proof that it wasn’t a fluke. Well, Brooks delivered, and how he’s ready to make the leap to the pros.

Age 21 (May 6, 1996) Birthplace Winnipeg, Manitoba
Pos Centre (LH) Drafted 2016 (Rd 4, Pick 92)
Vitals 5’11, 176lbs Acquired Via Draft

For those of you with The Athletic subscriptions, Scott Wheeler’s longform on Brooks gives some really in-depth insight into his background, both as a person and as a younger player.

Getting to the meat of his junior career, though, a lack of opportunity can be pointed to when explaining his slow start. Malcolm Cameron, his coach for the first two years of his WHL career in Regina, preferred to play with a more structured lineup and had a few centres higher up in his depth chart that received the lions share of minutes. Prospect-Stats estimates his 5v5 ice time in those seasons at about 9 minutes in 2012/13, and 9 and a half in 2013/14.

John Paddock came in, a few surrounding players graduated, and Brooks’ minutes shot up. Suddenly, it was 15 and a half minutes plus some special teams time in 2014/15, and Brooks was a point-per-game player. Unfortunately, it was already a year past his first draft year, so that wasn’t enough to gain attention. In his following season, though, Paddock doubled down on his blooming veteran and gave him every opportunity to play that he could ask for.

The result? 120 points, leading the WHL. It was enough to get the Leafs to take a chance.

 AGE  SEASON TEAM LEAGUE GP G A TP NHLe PIM +/-
14  2010-11  Winnipeg Hawks Bantam AAA  WBAAA 30 53 37 90
15  2011-12  Winnipeg Thrashers Midget AAA  MMHL 37 17 24 41 6
16  2012-13  Regina Pats  WHL 55 4 8 12 5.2 13 -10
17  2013-14  Regina Pats  WHL 60 4 7 11 4.4 24 -9
18  2014-15  Regina Pats  WHL 64 30 32 62 23 18 24
19  2015-16  Regina Pats  WHL 72 38 82 120 39.6 30 41
20  2016-17  Regina Pats  WHL 66 43 87 130 46.8 61 43

This season, the Leafs believed that the forward logjam they had with the Marlies would suffocate Brooks minutes-wise and decided to keep him in Regina to guarantee him plenty of reps. In a twist of fate, the Marlies’ centre depth was swiftly cut into, and they likely could have used him last year, but instead, Brooks got to be a captain on Regina and was able to dominate the WHL once again.

Brooks’ totals didn’t shoot up by much more, though he did still manage to become the third player in this century to hit the 130 point plateau. Besides the obvious fact that those surroundings will limit a player and give them a theoretical max, and the fact that Brooks missed six games during the season, he also had to deal with splitting minutes with Anaheim Ducks prospect, who scored just as frequently despite being nearly two years younger.

In case you’re wondering, that combination meant that the Pats were historically good in the regular season, finishing their year with a 52-12-7-1 record and +142 goal differential. They weren’t able to close things out though, losing in the final to Seattle, with a concussion to Brooks contributing to their downfall.

pGPSn pGPSs Exp. Success % Exp. P/82 Exp. Value
47 (20/31) 5 (26/31) 14.9% (18/31) 33.5 (11/31) 5.0 (17/31)

The above numbers are products of the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System (pGPS), created by Canucks Army to project a prospect’s odds of becoming an NHL regular. For a run-down on what each of these stats mean, head back to the introduction.

By being a smaller, older player, Brooks has his work cut out for him compared to historically travelled paths. Despite the fact he made a mockery of the WHL and was more important to his team than any prospect in the Leafs organization last year, he was still doing so as a Draft+3 playing Major Junior. One can hope that Tyler Johnson is the name on the above graph that he aligns most with, but there are few promises. Believing in Prairie Jesus definitely requires an element of faith in his ability at this stage, as the science says he’s got the talent to outperform his odds, but that history isn’t super favourable to his ilk.

I do wonder how different that would have looked had the Leafs chosen to play him in the AHL last year, though. Maybe we’ll see something different from his charts next year.

Without over-selling him too hard, Brooks’ style of play reminds me a lot of Brad Richards during his years in Dallas. He’s more than capable of carrying the puck, has extremely good vision, and can make pinpoint passes that leave you in suspense until his recipient has put them into the net. He’s able to play both forms of special teams with proficiency and was usually the forward on the point on Regina’s top powerplay unit.

Now, I’m not expecting him to pull a Richards and instantly become an elite pro. But the visual similarities are there.

The Upcoming Year

In a move that some might consider overdue, Brooks will be joining the Marlies this season. I’d expect him to get Top-6 style minutes (battling Chris Mueller for the officially unofficial role of #1 centre), and a fair bit of powerplay time.

My expectations for the start of the year are tempered; it’ll be an adjustment for him to go from junior to pro, and he still has to fully recover from mono. But he’s already looked to be somewhat back up to speed (even scoring a late-game equalizer for the Marlies in preseason action on Friday), and as the year progresses, I’d expect him to prove to be not just a notable rookie, but a valuable member of his team.

Long-Term Outlook

Brooks’ climb up the ranks is going to likely be a fascinating one if he’s able to go up those steps. His time in junior has clearly shown that he’s no stranger to the patient path, and with Toronto’s depth at centre right now, he may just have to take it again with the Marlies.

In the event that he’s for real, though, and merely someone who got passed over for too long, he’s going to be one of the most valuable pieces for the Leafs in the next couple of years. Not necessarily the best, but the combination of maturity, skill, and an entry-level contract that he won’t have the chance to fully turn into a big second deal could make him a steal for years to come. Wouldn’t that be something for a player who got passed over in two drafts?

To see the other profiles in this year’s series, please reference the full list.

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