Toronto Maple Leafs: On Adam Brooks and Progress

LAVAL, QC - NOVEMBER 01: Adam Brooks
LAVAL, QC - NOVEMBER 01: Adam Brooks /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in desperate need of centres, and Adam Brooks just so happens to be one.

Mired in early-season struggles, such a fact likely provided a semblance of comfort for the 21-year-old rookie. Something certainly had to.

The first 44 games of Brooks’ AHL career did not go as planned. Across that span, he collected just seven points, while primarily operating on the fourth line.

These hiccups were understandable. Adjusting to the professional level is a difficult task for anyone, let alone a 5’10” centre.

Having played his last four years in junior, where one’s oldest opponents top out at 20, Brooks was now matching up against grown men. Guys with mortgages and 401k’s, whose five o’clock shadow arrived two hours early.

The game had changed. Hits came harder, the puck moved quicker, and goalies closed off every angle.

A notoriously late bloomer, Brooks was just focused on keeping his head above water.

“Obviously, I didn’t get the start that I wanted,” Brooks told me following Thursday’s practice.

“I was pretty frustrated, a little bit down on myself. But, we have a lot of people around here that do a great job of development and making sure you get to a level where you get to go out and perform”. 


Development. That’s the keyword.

With the hyperintense focus perpetuated by Toronto’s fishbowl of a hockey market, it’s easy to lose sight of what the primary object regarding these prospects really is.

No, Brooks wasn’t producing, or even looking particularly comfortable for that matter.

But, that’s not the be all, end all of hockey. Each game brought forth another lesson. And with each lesson, a chance to learn. For young players like Brooks, a willingness to learn is the most productive asset you can have.

Continuing to learn, would those early struggles help him in the long run?

“Yeah absolutely,” replied Brooks.

“For some reason, I always seem to start slow, whether it be in the WHL or here. So, I just want to use all the, I guess, adversity and struggles I’ve had to go with my game and hopefully it helps my game down the road”.

Brooks is no stranger to adversity. In fact, adversity has been the primary force fuelling him throughout his career, guiding him all the way to the professional level.


Joining the WHL’s Regina Pats in 2012-13, Brooks proceeded to compile just 23 points over his first two seasons with the team, a span totalling 115 games.

The latter campaign, in which he finished with a paltry 11 points, happened to be his first year of draft eligibility. And considering the totals he’d just put up, Brooks unsurprisingly passed through the 2014 NHL Entry Draft unselected.

It was in those moments, following the crushing disappointment of a draft day letdown, where his progress truly began.

The 2014-15 season served as a significant launching pad for Brooks. In 64 games, he nearly tripled his point total from the previous two years combined, finishing the season with 62. Playing just four playoff games year prior, Brooks skated in nine, contributing seven points en route to the Pats second-round playoff exit.

For the first time in his junior hockey career, Brooks was not just simply hanging on. Now, his team was relying on him for production.

And produce he did.


Brooks’ first year as a Marlie has so far mirrored his time with the Pats, albeit condensed into a concise 76 games. In this case, the launching pad that was his 2014-15 season began on March 14th, 2018.

Reeling from the departures of Kasperi Kapanen, Kerby Rychel, Nikita Soshnikov and, most recently, Andreas Johnsson, the Marlies forward depth had taken an otherwise insurmountable hit. Up front, ice time that was previously unavailable was now ripe for the picking, practically begging an unsung hero to step up and make the most of it.

As it turns out, that hero was Brooks.

In the 12 games that followed, Brooks racked up 10 points. The version of the kid some call “Prarie Jesus” standing before his teammates now was noticeably different from the one of the previous 44 games. Brooks looked poised, at ease among his surroundings.

For the first time since his move to Toronto, he looked confident.

“He’s a guy that I think confidence is an issue,” explained his head coach Sheldon Keefe.

“It takes time to develop for him. It’s a difficult league for guys. This is a deep team and it’s hard to earn your ice time. But, he stayed patient, stayed focused, continued to work, and when his opportunity came he took advantage of it.”  

Lineup Bump

A brief move to the wing served as perhaps the most significant factor fuelling Brooks’ late-season renaissance. On March 30th, Keefe bumped him up to the Marlies top line, alongside a pair of veterans in Ben Smith and Chris Mueller.

The newly-formed trio immediately flourished, providing Brooks with the confidence of knowing he could indeed produce in a top line role.

Referring to his veteran linemates, Brooks had nothing but glowing things to say.

“Playing with them was huge for me,” he gushed.

“Obviously, they’ve been around for a long time and can teach me a lot of things. Hadn’t played the wing for a long time but felt pretty comfortable there. When you get opportunities like that, opportunities to play in different roles, your confidence grows. Now you have that locked in and wherever you play in the lineup you’ll be ready to go.” 

And nothing helps grow confidence faster than a deep playoff run.


As the door closes on the regular season, the various developments from Brooks’ rookie campaign can’t help but circle back around to the notion of progress

“I think progress is the right word for him,” explained Keefe.

“He’s in a good place now. We feel real good no matter where we use him in the lineup, whether it’s on the left wing or down the middle, power play, penalty kill. We think he’s become a nice versatile player for us, in terms of his ability to do different things. That just helps us have options with him as we get into the playoffs”. 

Heading into what many project as a hotly contested first-round series with the Utica Comets, Brooks may very well find himself shuffled up and down the lineup. His progression could not have come at a better time for a Marlies team currently possessing the franchises best ever odds of capturing an elusive Calder Cup.

And yet, there remains much work to be done for Brooks as he continues along his path to the NHL.

The Path Ahead

A summer free from the hindrance of mononucleosis will undoubtedly be a positive step, one which Brooks was not gifted with the year prior.

Health aside, a focus on increasing his foot speed, along with his overall strength, will almost certainly be included in his offseason playbook.

If March 14th and beyond served as a condensed version of Brooks’ 2014-15 WHL campaign, it means he’s now set to begin similar reflections of both his 2015-15 and 2016-17 seasons any day now.

Seasons that saw him amass a combined total of 250 points and convince the Leafs to spend a fourth-round pick on him in the 2016 draft.

Nevertheless, one fact remains. The Toronto Maple Leafs are in need a centre, and Brooks happens to be one. Only now, the Leafs brass is about to find out just how good of a centre their former fourth-rounder can be.

Next: Marlies Practice Report

If his progress up to this point tells us anything, Brooks is unlikely to disappoint.