Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, QMJHL, WHL, BCHL, USHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.
Gianni Fairbrother has been quietly impressing in this start to the season. He has seven points in nine games for the Everett Silvertips, but more than the points, it’s how solid he has been on the blue line that stands out.
Fairbrother’s in-zone defence is mature compared to the majority of his peers. He knows where to be and what to do in almost all situations, and seemingly switches from one assignment to the other. He is sometimes caught being a tad too aggressive in his positioning, but his anticipation of the play is often correct in those situations.
It starts with his skating. Fairbrother is a mobile defender. Not to the extent of a Jordan Harris per se, but more than enough to consistently remain ahead of the play at his level and still be able to easily match the high pace of the NHL.
Fairbrother is continuously in an athletic position as he defends in-zone. So many Junior defenceman stand upright with their knees locked as the puck moves around them. The Habs prospect gets lower on his skates, with a slight lean forward in his back. In this position, he is ready to explode in one direction or another to adapt to the movements of the puck and the opposition. Due to his stance, it becomes harder to beat him one-on-one or in a race to a loose puck.
Fairbrother also chooses the appropriate skating techniques to match the opposition’s movement. He limits his usage of crossovers, both off the rush and in the defensive zone. Crossovers have a player commit to accelerating in one direction. They rely on an abrupt weight-shift that puts that player off-balance for a second. This second is a window of opportunity for an attacker. That attacker can dangle around, as the defenceman isn’t as able to react to the moves compared to if both of his feet were set on the ice.
Fairbrother uses shuffle steps to level with opponents, which is a great way to keep his body facing the opponent, without crossing or committing his feet to big forward strides.
He also leaves his stick on the ice and on the puck at all times to limit the handling ranging of opposing puck-carriers and cut pass attempts. Every time attackers change direction, they are met with Fairbrother’s stick placed back against their own — but not overextended which, again, would mean a loss of balance.
The Habs prospect’s stick also protects the middle of the ice, preventing passes to that area. In close proximity to the boards, his free arm is used to limit cutbacks and helps direct the attacker toward the top of the zone, away from higher-danger areas like the slot or behind the net.
Finally, when a board battle ensues, Fairbrother tries to glue the attacker’s hips to the wall. It prevents an easy escape as he waits for support to take the puck away.
These defensive details aren’t what jump out at you when looking at a player in-game. The big rushes, slapshots, and blue-line moves tend to stand out a lot more. But in projecting a player’s game to the next level, they are extremely important.
Fairbrother’s defensive fundamentals are very strong. They represent a wide base on which to lay a pyramid of other future skills. It is often said that you can’t teach the flashy parts of a player’s game. The skill pyramid has to be high enough for it to rise above the competition at the professional level, but on the other hand, if the unique displays of talent and abilities aren’t rested on a solid foundation, there is a chance of a structure collapse when tested by adversity, bringing it all crashing down.
Fairbrother’s transition to professional hockey may not be seamless — it almost never is — but it’s already quite easy to see what a coach like Joël Bouchard will like in the player.
On top of his attention to detail defensively, he is cold-blooded when he touches the puck on the back-wall. Here are a couple of interesting puck-moving sequences from Everett’s game versus Vancouver.
Watch Fairbrother looking over his shoulders to scan the ice for incoming pressure and teammates. He seals possession with his body and holds on to it for the necessary time to attract forecheckers and open passing lanes to teammates.
In the first clip, he waits until both Vancouver forwards get on him before rimming the puck over to his now uncovered wingers. In the second clip, he blocks access to the puck with his back to a first forechecker and connects with his forward in the middle of the ice with a short pass.
Again a flurry of smaller elements stack on top of each other to allow Fairbrother to pull off plays like this. These are not game-changing plays, but they can easily be the difference between walking off the ice at the end of the game defeated, or having edged out the victory.
Samuel Houde and Raphaël Harvey-Pinard, Chicoutimi Saguenéens
Houde and Harvey-Pinard have been reunited in the same trio in the past couple of games. It coincides with an explosion in production for Harvey-Pinard who had a slow start to his over-age season. The two both scored six points in three games this week as the Chicoutimi Saguenéens are steamrolling the QMJHL.
CHL Weekly Stats
|Jacob LeGuerrier||2019||LD||OHL||Sault Ste Marie||3||0||1||1|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Everett Silvertips||4||2||4||6|
|Gianni Fairbrother||2019||LD||WHL||Everett Silvertips||4||0||1||1|
|Kieran Ruscheinski||2019||LD||BCHL||Salmon Arm Silverbacks||3||0||0||0|
CHL Season to date
|Jacob LeGuerrier||2019||LD||OHL||Sault Ste Marie||27||2||13||15|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Everett Silvertips||25||5||26||31|
|Gianni Fairbrother||2019||LD||WHL||Everett Silvertips||25||4||16||20|
|Kieran Ruscheinski||2019||LD||BCHL||Salmon Arm Silverbacks||30||0||3||3|
NCAA Weekly Stats
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||2||0||1||1|
|Cole Caufield||2019||RW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||2||2||0||2|
|Jayden Struble||2019||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||2||1||1||2|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||2||0||0||0|
NCAA Season to date
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||14||1||1||2|
|Cole Caufield||2019||RW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||18||12||8||20|
|Jayden Struble||2019||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||14||2||3||5|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||17||3||8||11|