By Kirk Luedeke
University of Michigan winger Phil Di Giuseppe may be on the bubble for the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but if behind-the-scenes talk amongst some in the scouting community is any indication, the Maple, Ontario native should land somewhere inside the top-30 picks June 22.
|Phil Di Giuseppe was the youngest member of the Wolverines in 2011-12. (Photo courtesy of University of Michigan Athletics)|
Although the OHL has been a major producer of early talent in the NHL Entry Draft, the 18-year-old passed on that particular developmental track for the NCAA under the tutelage of legendary college coach Red Berenson. Di Giuseppe could have easily opted for the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs (a sixth-round pick in 2010) and who knows what he might have done in that league? However, in the end, the lure of the Blue and Maize was simply too powerful to pass on.
“It’s unbelievable,” Di Giuseppe told New England Hockey Journal from his hotel room in Toronto, where he is attending the NHL Scouting Combine this week. “When you start looking at NCAA programs, one school stands out: the University of Michigan Wolverines. Growing up, I never really looked at going there, but as time went by, and I began to look at maybe taking a different route, there was no other choice for me.”
Were there any other factors beyond Michigan’s storied hockey tradition that played into Di Giuseppe’s decision to pass on major junior?
“I would say the biggest thing is maturity,” he said. “Obviously, when you go to the OHL you move out of the house and in with a billet family. In the NCAA, you’re in the dorms with a roommate. I just thought going to college was a better route for me—not for all—but for me in terms of my development and what I wanted to accomplish at this stage of my development.”
Di Giuseppe followed up his 63-point OPJHL campaign with the Villanova Knights with a 10-goal, 22-point freshman season. Although Di Giuseppe’s first test in the NCAA was up-and-down in terms of his production, he finished strong to close out the year.
“I’m a skilled forward I’d say,” Di Giuseppe noted when asked to describe his game. “I’m strong on the puck and am a good stick-handler and good skater. I like to take the puck to the net. I would also say that I’m pretty good in the cycle game and can do strong work in the corners.”
“He’s a nice skater and solid two-way forward,” said an NHL scout with an Eastern Conference team recently. “Just a good player with the potential to get better.”
The scout observed that Di Giuseppe doesn’t always play with the kind of diligence away from the puck that he does when he’s going on the attack. For his part, Di Giuseppe did not dispute that kind of room for improvement.
“Being consistent on a daily basis is the biggest thing,” he said. “Whether it’s getting pucks to the net consistently, or making hits-- I think it’s something I’ve got to keep working on.”
Another NHL scout who saw Di Giuseppe also sees some legitimate NHL potential down the road.
“I liked him a lot (this year),” the scout said. “He is a guy who has some real skill and a great shot. He didn’t have outstanding numbers, but what 18-year old does in the NCAA? He is solidly built and is a surefire top-six forward for me.”
Di Giuseppe said that he’s currently between 6-feet and 6-foot-1, but weighs in at a solid 200 pounds. As he gains strength and adds even more mass to his frame, he’ll be even more effective in puck possession than he already is.
“He’s a very high-end skilled guy,” Michigan assistant coach Brian Wiseman told the Hockey News about Di Giuseppe back in December. “(He has) great instincts for the game and he loves to play hockey. He’s around the rink a lot; he loves being here, working on things extra.”
Although he wasn’t necessarily a die-hard Leafs fan growing up, Di Giuseppe did say that his father was a fan of the team, so some of that rubbed off on him. However, his favorite player never skated for the Blue and White.
“I loved to watch Pavel Bure play when I was a kid,” he said. “He was just so explosive, such a pure scorer. I think he brought so much excitement to the game.
“Although I never really had a favorite team, I think it’s important to try and watch guys that you think you can play like. You can develop some of the winning habits they have and see the things they do that make them successful NHL players. Right now, I would say Patrick Kane is someone I try to watch and learn as much as I can from in terms of the style he plays.”
Di Giuseppe may not have the pure explosiveness of a Bure or Kane, but he brings legitimate offensive chops and could develop into a consistent scoring presence at the NHL level in time.
“Everything is much faster,” said Di Giuseppe. “Guys are older and stronger, and I think that’s the biggest difference from what I was used to—the age and physicality of the play in the NCAA. Because of how much Coach Berenson believed in me, I got a chance to play as a freshman, and so that did a lot for my confidence.”
NHL clubs may show the same kind of confidence in Di Giuseppe in primetime on a Friday night in June, even if the payoff may take a bit longer.