Produced by the Western Hockey League in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multi-part series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” can be seen monthly at WHL.ca, featuring a key member of the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
The Everett Silvertips are no strangers to finding talent for their blue line from British Columbia’s Lower Mainland or sending talent to the NHL Draft.
In a week, they’ll unite both as they root on defenceman and North Vancouver’s finest, Gianni Fairbrother.
After missing the cutoff for the 2018 NHL Draft by 15 days, Fairbrother has used the extra year to his advantage, coming in at 50th on NHL Central Scouting’s rankings of North American skaters. However, not much changed for the former Vancouver Northwest Giant in a good way.
“I just took the same approach that I’ve taken for the last couple years for games,” Fairbrother said. “Same preparation, same routine. I didn’t really want to change too much because obviously what I was doing was somewhat working.”
Selected 80th overall by the Silvertips in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, Fairbrother could hear his name called around the same position by a NHL club. For the Silvertips, it’s become somewhat of the norm for them in recent years.
Last year, the Silvertips went through the same process with Wyatte Wylie, who was underrated and rose in the season’s late rankings before being chosen by the Philadelphia Flyers. On the Lower Mainland side of the equation, it’s hard to think about the Silvertips’ success in recent years without taking into account the contributions of Noah Juulsen, Jake Christiansen, Ian Walker, or Fairbrother on the blue line.
“We kind of knew all along in the sense of our staff; it doesn’t surprise us,” said Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams. “He came here wanting to be a pro hockey player and with him it’s the hard work he puts in, the dedication, the time he puts in, he’s finally being rewarded.
“It hasn’t come easy.”
After getting into three games in the 2016-17 WHL Regular Season, Fairbrother appeared in 33 games the following season as a rookie, also Williams’ first as head coach of the Silvertips. Being in and out of the lineup, as well as playing limited minutes behind the team’s older core, required the young Fairbrother to be patient and to keep his expectations in check.
“The one thing he learned is he kept coming to the rink every day wanting to get better,” Williams said of his defenceman, bringing up his humble attitude and joy of giving back to the Silvertips’ community where possible. “His transition has been just a steady progression of getting better and better each season.”
He appeared in nearly as many games in the 2018 WHL Playoffs (22 games) as he did in the regular season (33 games). Though his team came up just short, getting an opportunity to play in the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series was one Fairbrother had already taken lessons from. It laid part of the foundation for him to start the 2018-19 season strong.
Taking a larger share of control on the team’s blue line, he took full advantage of the opportunity, posting 36 points (10G-26A) and ranking in a tie for 15th among WHL defencemen in goals.
“Earlier on, it was working on my defensive game, making reads on breakouts and line rushes,” Fairbrother said. “This past season, a big improvement I made was my play with the puck. There’s always stuff to be working on.”
True to the form that’s made him successful with the Silvertips over the past two seasons, Fairbrother will soak up the experience of attending the draft, a short 15-20 minute drive from his home of North Vancouver. After that’s all done, it’s right back to work prepping for the coming season.
“I never really thought I’d be in this position so it’s definitely something that I’m going to take it all in the next little bit,” Fairbrother said.
A dream of taking the next step towards playing professional hockey that once seemed so far away is now within Fairbrother’s grasp right in his own backyard.