Prairie Jesus is here to stay, at least for now. The Toronto Maple Leafs announced this morning that they would be signing forward Adam Brooks to a two-year contract extension, carrying an AAV of $725,000.
The exact terms of the contract were not disclosed, save for the fact that is a two-way deal, which implies a different salary to be paid should Brooks be re-assigned to the Toronto Marlies at any point. One would also guess that the deal pays $700,000 in 2020/21 and $750,000 in 2021/22, given the AAV and the fact that the league minimum moves up from the former to the latter at the end of next year.
Brooks was drafted as an over-ager by the Maple Leafs in the 4th round of the 2016 Entry Draft, after putting up a 120 point Draft+2 season with the Regina Pats of the WHL. There was some thought that Brooks wasn’t put in a sufficient position to succeed by Pats staff early in his junior career and that he was blooming with the newfound opportunity, which was intriguing to a Leafs managerial group that was looking to speed up the re-stock of it’s prospect cupboards. At the time, I compared Brooks to then-Leaf forward Connor Brown, pointing out their similar development curves in junior. Brown caught enough eyeballs to be drafted late, but at a more traditional age; Brooks slipped through the cracks but produced like a pleasant surprise late-round pick.
Since then, Toronto hasn’t quite hit a grand slam with Brooks, but they’ve at minimum landed a strong, base-earning hit. Brooks returned to Regina for a final season in 2017, and joined the Marlies following that. As an AHL rookie in 2017/18, Brooks struggled to produce for the first few months, which can be chalked up to league adjustment, a deep roster, and his own battles with mono in the summer. As the season progressed, Brooks found chemistry with Mason Marchment and later Trevor Moore, and their fourth line became a sheltered play-driving line in the playoffs, pushing pace and driving possession en route to the 2018 Calder Cup.
Brooks started to see a steady increase in his productivity from there, producing at a respectable Top-6 rate for the AHL level and having a noticeable impact on possession. In 2018/19, Brooks’ Corsi-for Percentage consistently hovered in the 60% range and his point total jumped from 19 to 40 within a similar games-played threshold.
This season wasn’t quite as kind to Brooks; while he maintained his point production rate with 20 points in 29 games, concussions and other injuries set him back, as did a weakened surrounding roster and the departure of his favourite linemates – Moore to an NHL graduation followed by a trade to Los Angeles, Marchment to a trade to Florida. But there was a silver lining that came in the form of an NHL call-up; Brooks played seven games for the Leafs this season, picking up the first three points of his NHL career while averaging about eight minutes per game.
Brooks’ immediate future remains in question. At 24-years old as of this week, he’s approaching the “put up or shut up” stage of the development curve – even if his personal development was stalled in his youth, athletic prime waits for no one. His underlying numbers weren’t particularly good in his cup of coffee, and if he wants to compete for a 4th-line centre spot, he’ll have to come to camp 100% healthy and with some work done on skills that match his role. While Brooks has the brain to play a responsible two-way game, he’s typically had at least one winger to defer to for physicality, and while he’s improved since coming to Toronto, he remains relatively weak on the draw, winning about 47% of his faceoffs over the past two years.
Obviously, this is one of those signings that can be brushed off as business as usual – an NHL team retaining a low-cost prospect who had RFA status is hardly major news. I do like that Toronto got an extra year on the deal, which works as a way to keep Brooks affordable if he does make a permanent leap this season or works as a pseudo-barrier to him being claimed off waivers should he not make the big club. At minimum, Brooks is a valuable piece of the Marlies, so protecting yourself from teams who just want to try a player out without having to worry about him the following season by adding a second year is a solid strategy.
Toronto still has several other lower-level RFAs to address over the coming months. Frederik Gauthier, Denis Malgin, Max Veronneau, Jeremy Bracco, Pontus Aberg, and Teemu Kivihalme will all have to be extended, qualified, or let go in the coming weeks and months, with Travis Dermott and Ilya Mikheyev being in the RFA priority tier above them.