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2021 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #21 Gianni Fairbrother

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The 2019 third-round pick breaks into the Top 25 for the first time.

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

While many prospects were displaced and had their development hurt by the pandemic, Gianni Fairbrother put the weird year to good use. Because of the delayed start for the Western Hockey League season, Fairbrother got an extended look with the Laval Rocket through their training camp and the start of their season.

He turned that time into his entry-level contract, and then played 23 games as the captain of his WHL team in Everett. All in all, a very successful pandemic season. Now he looks to build on that in his first full professional season.

Elite Prospects

Fairbrother is not a defenceman who is going to blow you away with offensive numbers. His growth in this regard is also affected by two shortened seasons. While the overall numbers seem to have dropped, his per-game point-scoring rates have increased the last three years, while his per-game penalty minute numbers have decreased. His 17 points last season were tied for the Silvertips team lead among defencemen, and tied for fifth in team scoring overall.

He even managed to sneak in a point in his three games at the AHL level.

Voting

Like most prospects in this range, Fairbrother has a wide range of opinions from the panel. He received six rankings in the top 20, including from the EOTP community. He also received two rankings in the 30s.

I asked Nathan for more input about his ranking: “Truth be told, the real reason is that he just dropped off my radar entirely - and that might be more of a product of COVID and the truncated WHL season making proper evaluation difficult than anything of his doing.”

I was almost the highest on Fairbrother. It’s hard to get a read on him, but I feel fortunate to have been able to watch him in person, which is not something that can be said about a lot of prospects on this list. I see upside in his game.

Top 25 Under 25 History

2020: #29 2019: #33

Fairbrother has had a steady rise since being selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the third round in the 2019 Draft. The left-handed defenceman finally breaks through into the Top 25, eight spots ahead of his 2020 ranking.

History of #21

Year #21
Year #21
2020 Sean Farrell
2019 Joni Ikonen / Jayden Struble
2018 Jacob Olofsson
2017 Martin Réway
2016 Simon Bourque
2015 Lukas Vejdemo
2014 Michael McCarron
2013 Greg Pateryn
2012 Darren Dietz
2011 Gabriel Dumont
2010 Mac Bennett

Strengths

Fairbrother’s strength is his all around game. His profile is something we see a lot in a lot of Canadiens defence prospects. He can skate, he can make a first pass, and he is strong at both creating zone exits and stopping rush chances.

It was not a certainty that he would get his entry-level contract, but when he got an opportunity to play in the American Hockey League, he really didn’t look out of place despite the fact that in a normal situation he wouldn’t have been eligible to play.

He has a deceiving amount of offensive ability in his game, which is intriguing. I wouldn’t classify him as an offensive defenceman, and I don’t think power play time will be in his future but he’s definitely capable with the puck on his stick. In fact, that was probably the part of his game that impressed me the most since I have seen him live both at development camp in 2019 and in Laval last season. He’s not afraid to step up into the play.

Former Laval Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard was full of praise for Fairbrother. He said that every time a young player shows up for development camp, rookie camp, or even a professional camp, they have the opportunity to leave their business card by making an impression and Bouchard kept saying that Fairbrother did that.

His skating is also quite good. It’s the element that brings all the other aspects of his game up a notch.

Weaknesses

The flip side of being good at several things comes with the fact that there’s no real standout skill for Fairbrother. It’s part of the reason that he gets lost in the shuffle among Canadiens prospects on defence.

He doesn’t have the presence of Kaiden Guhle, the physicality of Alexander Romanov, or the offence of Mattias Norlinder or Josh Brook. There’s a fear that he’s missing that one calling card that you can count on to move up levels.

Like so many prospects, we haven’t really had a big sample to go on, and there is some missed development time. That’s not really any different from any other prospect on this list, but it adds a layer of uncertainty to any evaluation of him.

His skill has been questioned, but even having said that, he isn’t useless with the puck on his stick. He’s just lacking that dynamic ability and that’s a “criticism” that goes for a lot of his game. It’s probably not fair, but I think that’s where some of the pessimism surrounding him as a prospect comes.

At 6’0”, 190 lbs, he’s not small, but may be considered undersized. Having said that, the shape of defence in the NHL is dropping.

Projection

Fairbrother will have a big year ahead of him, and it’s one that could shape his future as a prospect. Most prospects can struggle in their first full professional season, but for Fairbrother to have had a taste of that, the adjustment may be easier.

With a bunch of changes to the Laval Rocket defence — and to the coaching staff — he will have an opportunity to leave his business card on the table again and make an impression on new head coach Jean-François Houle.

There is every reason to believe that there are some NHL games in Fairbrother’s future. He’s a type of player whose floor is quite high. Like Cale Fleury and Josh Brook before him, he probably needs at least a full season in the AHL before he makes that kind of jump. The question then becomes how high is his upside? I think there’s a possibility of a top-four defenceman in Fairbrother.

An ideal year for Fairbrother would be to grow into a regular spot on the Rocket defence this season. As long as he keeps improving as the year goes on, we can chalk it up as a successful year.