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Catching The Torch: Gianni Fairbrother could have an NHL spot in his future

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The defencemen is ready for pro hockey, and his defensive game is going to give him a shot at the top level.

Portland Winterhawks v Everett Silvertips Photo by Christopher Mast/Getty Images

Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Montreal Canadiens prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, WHL), and collegiate (NCAA) level.

The Everett Silvertips, Gianni Fairbrother’s team, is one of the most distinctive teams in Junior hockey. Defence is their identity. It’s not a unique strategy, coaches at every level of hockey put an emphasis on that aspect of that game, but the Silvertips take extra pride in it. Limiting goals is simply what they do; their formula for success.

Over the past six years, the team finished in the top two in goal prevention and they are once again on pace to finish at or near the top this season. Considering the cyclical nature of success in Junior hockey, as veteran players come and go and as teams move from rebuild to contention, this kind of long-term consistency is more than impressive.

It’s not for nothing that the Montreal Canadiens have trusted the organization with some of their draft picks in recent years, players like Nikita Scherbak who was given the opportunity to flesh out his game, 2015 first-rounder Noah Juulsen, and now Fairbrother. There is a bit of a shared mentality there, an understanding of how to best play the game from a defensive standpoint, and especially a preference for a certain type of responsible, physical defenceman. Those who can play shutdown defence and create offence by separating opponents from the puck early and effectively.

Fairbrother's development is moving right along on that path to become that shutdown presence. He is on track for seamless integration into the Laval Rocket system when he comes over for good, which should be next year considering he has already signed his professional contract. With size, mobility, awareness, and aggressiveness, Fairbrother will be as plug-and-play as it gets in Laval next year, a valuable asset in Joël Bouchard’s defence.

Don’t expect him to make any kind of waves on offence or even moving the puck. Risk is mostly absent from his game even at the Junior level right now; the experimentation that you usually see out of fourth-year players is absent in his game. He has settled into his role, and rarely moves outside of its boundaries. The only offensive excursions you really see from him are when he is placed in a situation that forces him to try to generate scoring chances, like on the half-wall on a power play.

Generally, this lack of risk-taking and experimentation could be seen as a sign of stagnation. But even if the defenceman only becomes a better version of what he is right now — a mobile and physical shutdown presence with short-passing skills — it will likely be enough for him to aspire to an NHL role after some time in the AHL. His strengths will scale up well inside the Canadiens organization, so well in fact that he could end up in a role higher than we would predict based on the apparent simplicity of his Junior game right now.

Here are some sequences I picked up from his recent games that illustrate one of Fairbrother’s NHL-calibre skills: the ability to win and protect the puck with his body and hold it if necessary to find a safe passing outlet.

Gianni Fairbrother wears #24 with the Everett Silvertips

In some of these clips, the defenceman arguably takes a bit too long to move the puck (his team didn’t give him the option he wanted), but at his current strength and experience in the WHL, Faibrother can afford to delay. He can easily hold opponents away with one arm and spin away until the right target appears. When needed, the defenceman doesn’t have issues moving the puck quickly. He shoulder-checks for outlets before getting the puck, speeding up his next decision.

Faribrother is the lone Montreal Canadiens bastion in the CHL right now. Kaiden Guhle’s season is done due to a hand injury, and the OHL, which should have hosted Jan Mysak and Jacob LeGuerrier, cancelled their 2020-21 season altogether. The Silvertips season will extend for one more week before shutting down, too. There won’t be a playoff this year.

Sean Farrell

Unsurprisingly, the Chicago Steel won both of their opening USHL playoff matches against the Dubuque Fighting Saints, taking the best-of-three. The Steel advances to the next round to face the Muskegon Lumberjacks. What was unexpected in that first-round matchup is that Farrell, the king of the league’s regular season, only recorded two points over the games. You can almost call it a cold streak by his standards.

It is a safe bet that Farrell “bounces back” against Muskegon. The Habs winger, running out of time on his mission to break the 100-point plateau, decimated the Lumberjacks in their last two encounters. He put up seven points total.

Here are a few highlights of Farrell against Dubuque.

Sean Farrell wears #26 with the Chicago Steel.

CHL Weekly stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Kaiden Guhle 2020 LD WHL Prince Albert Raiders 0 0 0 0
Gianni Faibrother 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

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Kaiden Guhle 2020 LD WHL Prince Albert Raiders 2 1 1 2
Gianni Faibrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 23 1 16 17
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 20 1 2 3

NCAA/USHL weekly stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 0 0 0 0
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 0 0 0 0
Sean Farrell 2020 LW USHL Chicago 2 0 1 1
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Tri-City 0 0 0 0
Jack Smith 2020 C USHL Sioux Falls 0 0 0 0
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 0 0 0 0
Blake Biondi 2020 C NCHC Minnesota-Duluth 0 0 0 0
Luke Tuch 2020 LW Hockey East Boston 0 0 0 0

NCAA/USHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 31 30 22 52
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 31 6 7 13
Sean Farrell 2020 LW USHL Chicago 53 29 72 101
Sean Farrell (playoffs) 2020 LW USHL Chicago 6 1 4 5
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon/Tri-City 43 13 21 34
Jack Smith 2020 C USHL Sioux Falls 47 7 6 13
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 18 2 10 12
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 19 6 13 19
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 13 5 4 9
Blake Biondi 2020 C NCHC Minnesota-Duluth 25 2 3 5
Luke Tuch 2020 LW Hockey East Boston 16 6 5 11

Goalie weekly stats

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Jakub Dobes 2020 USHL Omaha 0-2-0 2.10 0.923 0

Goalie Season to date

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Jakub Dobes 2020 USHL Omaha 26-16-2-1 2.48 0.908 2
Jakub Dobes (playoffs) 2020 USHL Omaha 0-2-0 2.10 0.923 0