June 25, 2017

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Roblin rearguard a likely pick at draft

Josh Brook will have his name called out in Roblin and, almost assuredly, in Chicago this Saturday.

Both moments will be pivotal in the young man’s life.

Colin Corneau / Brandon Sun files</p><p>Josh Brook ‘does everything with his head up,’ says Moose Jaw Warriors assistant coach Mark O’Leary.</p></p>

Colin Corneau / Brandon Sun files

Josh Brook ‘does everything with his head up,’ says Moose Jaw Warriors assistant coach Mark O’Leary.

Brook will graduate with the class of 2017 from Goose Lake High School (Roblin) and receive his diploma at the convocation ceremony followed by a dinner and celebration with his friends.

But he’s also projected to be selected in this year’s NHL Draft, set for Chicago’s United Center. The first round will be held Friday night, and the second through seventh rounds go Saturday.

Coming off a strong second year on defence with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League, he’s the 49th-ranked North American skater — and the 13th-ranked blue-liner — by NHL Central Scouting, and is a projected third- or fourth-round draft pick.

Brook, who turned 18 years old June 17, says he’ll try to soak up every memorable moment of "grad," but he’ll be keeping close tabs on how things are unfolding at the home of the Blackhawks.

"Getting to graduate and possibly get drafted all on the same day, that’d be pretty sweet," he said recently.

"I don’t think I can watch it but I’ll definitely be following it — probably hiding my phone under my gown and checking out what’s happening."

Brook experienced an injury-plagued rookie season as a 16-year-old in Moose Jaw, but followed up with a sensational 2016-17 campaign that solidified him as the Warriors’ most dependable blue-liner — the coaching staff’s go-to guy in all situations — and significantly raised his profile as a pro prospect.

He went from 10 points in 30 games in 2015-16 to 40 points in 69 games last season, and he led all Warriors skaters with a pair of goals and five assists in seven playoff games (Swift Current knocked off Moose Jaw 4-3 in a best-of-seven first-round series).

"I had a bit of a slow start, maybe trying to do too much, but at Christmas time there was a bit of a turnaround," he said, describing last season. "I felt I was 100 per cent healthy and that’s when I started to take off."

At 6-2, 185 pounds, Brook already has good size and will build on that frame as he gets a little older. He’s a tremendous skater and is smart and steady in all three zones.

He said he’s the kind of player that relishes a heavy workload.

"I like a lot of ice time, for sure," said Brook, who played minor hockey in Roblin before moving to Wilcox, Sask., where he enrolled at prep school and hockey academy Athol Murray College of Notre Dame.

"I think I’m a strong-skating, good first-pass defenceman that can play in any situation," he said.

"I’ll obviously keep working on things if I get the opportunity to get drafted. I need to work on my shooting, being more physical and getting bigger, faster and stronger."

Brook is one of several Manitoba-born players expected to be selected at the draft, a list led by Winnipegger and Brandon Wheat Kings centre Nolan Patrick, ranked No. 1 by NHL Central Scouting.

The group also includes Portland Winterhawks centre Cody Glass, also of Winnipeg and ranked sixth among North American skaters, Nick Henry of Portage la Prairie, a right-winger with the Regina Pats and ranked 25th, Stelio Mattheos of Winnipeg, a right-winger with the Wheat Kings and ranked 38th, centre Morgan Geekie of Strathclair who plays for the Tri-City Americans and is ranked 45th, and left-winger Ty Lewis of his hometown Wheat Kings, the 59th-ranked North American skater.

All but Lewis attended the recent NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo, N.Y., where the league’s 31 teams had a chance to watch 84 of the top North American prospects and the top 20 international prospects perform during fitness testing.

Brook said there wasn’t one team in particular that showed interest in him, and he’s not focusing on his ranking, or when or who might pick him.

Mark O’Leary, assistant coach of the Warriors and responsible for the team’s defensive unit, said the difference in Josh Brook the player and person, from his rookie season to last year’s campaign, was night and day.

"That first year he was just getting his feet wet. He had the injuries that were probably good for him in the long run because he had to learn how to handle some adversity," O’Leary said. "When he came in this past year, he really hit the ground running. I thought the improvement from him over the course of the year was second to none, and that’s all his doing.

"He’s a guy that, on the ice, wants more and more. He’s always go-go-go. I always give him heck to quit looking at me when I’m standing on the bench. I tell him, ‘I know you’re there, Josh, and that you’re ready to go.’ I’d take six or seven of him."

O’Leary said Brook is the complete package and has a bright future ahead of him.

"His talent and skills, his skating ability is there, he does everything with his head up, he sees the ice well, his competitiveness, those are all things you look for in any player," he said. "Certainly, a defenceman that can move like him — he skates himself out of a lot of jams — in terms of the next level, I just think he has a really high ceiling.

"Whoever does take him and whatever organization that he does go in, he’s just one of those kids that’ll find a way."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @WFPJasonBell

Read more by Jason Bell .

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Updated on Monday, June 19, 2017 at 8:18 AM CDT: Adds headline, adds photo

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