It was obvious going into the draft that Trevor Timmins and his staff were prioritizing left-handed defensemen. It was also quite clear what their main goal was when looking at defensemen. What many didn’t see is Gianni Fairbrother being the 77th pick the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver, BC.
At first glance, you may think Fairbrother is your typical hard nose blueliner who prides himself with his defense. What we came to realize is that he has an offensive side to his playing style that has yet to be polished. These are interesting signs when you project players 3, 4 and 5 years down the line.
What he does well…
He is a much better skater than what people thought. He showed signs at development camp and during the rookie tournament that his mobility was one of his strengths. His skating looks smooth for a 6-foot close to 200 lbs defenseman. He is agile enough to switch his skating lane and often creates favorable match-ups because of that agility. He’s also in continuous movement on the ice and tries to find lanes for his teammates who need help in certain areas of the ice. He manages to always stay in motion which makes him a weapon on offense at any given moment. He keeps things simple on defense. He tries to look for the simple 100% success rate pass to get the puck out of his zone and in motion towards the opposing team. He’s also a good puck rusher which allows his team to get into the opposing zone to set up plays. His mobility and agility also help him when defending as he can keep the same pace with forwards attack the net and manages to keep the puck away from it. His game may be part of a new style of defending. Almost like man-to-man coverage in football.
While on offense he utilizes another strength: his shot. Fairbrother has a great shot with a lot of power. He uses his slap shot and one-timer more than his wrist shot but he manages to put a lot of power and accuracy in them. Not a goal scorer but he does create a lot of traffic on the net when he does get the puck there. His offensive numbers were good for a young defenseman who doesn’t turn 19 until September 30th, 2019. Scoring 10 goals in 64 games as an 18-year-old should mean more as a 19-year-old. He should score even more because of his experience and because he has been training all summer even making good impressions at camp. In addition to having a powerful shot is the fact that he gets them on the net. He rarely loads up to shoot wide and manages to get the puck passed lanes of defenders. His shooting is reliable and it is an underrated skill to have when he will eventually fight for a spot at professional camps.
On top of having a skilled side, Fairbrother is as tough as they come. In his short junior career thus far he has a total of 113 penalty minutes in 97 games played for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. He likes to be rough and has an edge to his game. He engages his opponents with speed but uses his big body and often commits to separating the player from the puck with a hit or a check. He’s also dropped the gloves quite often in his 2 seasons.
What he needs to work on…
His creativity is one of the areas that is lacking. He’s also young and should not expect him to max out right now but it is something to work on before turning pro. He needs to be able to do more with the puck and it comes with more confidence and ice time which is something he’ll have more of as Everett is looking to give him more responsibilities in his 2nd full season with the team. He should continue to play on the powerplay as he showed signs of better offensive awareness the more the season continued. Coach Dennis Williams is hoping to see an upwards progression of Fairbrother as he gains more knowledge and abilities to perform. By being more creative he will develop better and his ceiling as an NHL defenseman will increase.
Though Gianni has been with the Silvertips for 2 years now he only played in 33 games in his first season after being sidelined with a separated shoulder resulting from a fight. He is hopefully entering his 2nd full season and 3rd altogether with Everett. The team is coming off a successful season seeing them finish first with 47 wins in 68 games and eventually losing to the Spokane Chiefs in 5 games in the semi-finals. They’re looking to get back to this success and Fairbrother is looking to progress and develop into a more dependable and more frequently used defenseman for the Silvertips. If all goes well he will increase his point totals, likely be in the penalty box as often and become a key piece of that defense for a better run during the postseason.
Everything is lining up for Gianni to take a big step forward and show that he’s got the so-called “It” factor in order to one day become a dependable two-way defenseman.