Each season, a plethora of talented freshmen enter the collegiate ranks with some not only setting themselves apart from the rest but also making immediate impacts for their respective teams.
This season, one such player is University of Michigan freshman winger Phil Di Giuseppe.
Di Giuseppe came to Michigan after playing two seasons with the Villanova Knights of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. In 2010-11, Di Giuseppe amassed 79 points (30 goals, 49 assists) in 59 games.
While the Maple, ONT native had considered going the Major Junior route (the Windsor Spitfires hold his OHL rights); Di Giuseppe felt that the University of Michigan best suited his development.
"I chose the college route because I thought it would be better for my game and give me the time to mature on and off the ice. So that was a big part of my decision."
Michigan and RPI were among the NCAA schools that heavily recruited Di Giuseppe. But he ultimately chose Michigan for its reputation.
"I wanted to come to Michigan because the school is top-notch. The hockey program has been successful and has so much history. And to just be a part of it is awesome."
At the University of Michigan
Phil Di Giuseppe burst onto the collegiate hockey scene this past fall and made his presence felt immediately. He was named the CCHA Rookie of the Month for October after posting nine points (five goals, four assists) in eight games. His first collegiate career points came back on October 7th and 8th in the series versus non-conference foe Bentley University. In the first game, he posted his first collegiate point – an assist. The following night, he posted his first two collegiate goals, including the game-winning power play goal.
Di Giuseppe currently ranks second on the Wolverines in rookie scoring with 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 27 games. His three power play goals rank second on the team. Since October, Di Giuseppe’s numbers have dipped to just seven points (three goals, four assists) in his last 21 games. But it isn’t due to a lack of effort, as evidence by the fact he currently ranks third on the team in shots with 74.
What has been and continues to be most remarkable aspect about Di Giuseppe is his maturity as a player. It’s easy to forget that he just turned 18 in October because he plays the game like a seasoned collegian. And while Di Giuseppe has been mired in a bit of a scoring slump, he continues to be a contributor in other areas. As Michigan associate head coach Billy Powers notes it is that maturity and ability to contribute in other areas that have made Di Giuseppe such a key component of this season’s Wolverine team.
"Like most freshmen, Phil’s hit a small bump here and there, where he’s trying to find his best game every night. The good thing about Phil is that he’s learning to get better without the puck and learning to play with consistency. He kind of has things in check mentally. He’s also been consistent as far as his growth and maturity in the fact that he’s willing to play a team game and willing to sacrifice when things aren’t going well offensively. Phil is not a guy that cheats or looks to play like an opportunist. Although the points and the production have tapered off, Phil is still involved as a hockey player and we know that the scoring will come back for him. He has continued to contribute to our winning efforts because his line continues to play against the other team’s top lines and he’s still a plus-player (plus-nine). So he’s been doing a lot of good things, even though it doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet."
Di Giuseppe has played much of the season on Michigan’s second line alongside junior A.J. Treais and senior team captain Luke Glendening. The trio has not only been able to provide some solid offensive support, but also adds speed and energy to the high-powered Wolverines.
The opportunity to play for legendary coach Red Berenson and his staff was another reason that attracted Di Giuseppe to Michigan. And one of the greatest lessons he’s learned thus far is how to be a successful student-athlete.
"Obviously Coach Berenson and Coach Powers have been at this for a long time and really know their stuff. All of the coaches help me out every week to become better. They know when things are and aren’t going well and know what I need to do to get better. The thing that I’ve learned is that I have to work hard both on and off the ice, and they make sure that I attend all of my classes. They tell me that if I do that, things will all fall into place. They obviously care about me becoming not only a good hockey player, but a good student too."
In December, Di Giuseppe attended Team Canada’s World Junior Championship camp. Although he didn’t make the team, Di Giuseppe certainly made people take notice with his impressive showing. The camp also proved to be an invaluable experience for the young winger.
"It was obviously a great honor to just be invited there and being given a chance to improve myself. I thought that I had a pretty good camp. There were obviously a lot of great players there, so it was tough to be able to make it (onto the team). I learned that I could play with those guys and what it takes to make the team. It’s made me want to work that much harder to (hopefully) make the team next year. I think the greatest thing that I learned from it was the fact that you have to bust your butt for the entire 60 minutes because all of those guys there were really good. I saw how hard they worked and I’m applying that to my game here at Michigan."
Some will classify Di Giuseppe as a "pure-scorer". And while there is no doubt that he can put the puck into net, there is far more to his game than just scoring goals. He is equally adept as a playmaker. Two areas that set Di Giuseppe apart from many other freshmen are his tremendous hockey instincts and his ability to cycle pucks down low. He thinks the game extremely well and has a low panic point. Di Giuseppe is also quite good not only around the net but along the boards and corners as well. He sees the ice and follows/supports plays really well too. Di Giuseppe possesses great poise and patience with the puck, and his decision-making is very good.
For such a young player, Di Giuseppe is quite strong, but he isn’t a real physical player. He utilizes his 6’1, 200 lbs frame very effectively, particularly in protecting the puck. Powers notes that Di Giuseppe’s strength may also be his most underestimated attribute.
"Because of his age and not being overly physical, I don’t think people would classify Phil as a strong player. He is as strong of a player as we have on the puck. I think Phil’s strength could also be underestimated, but his hockey strength is second to none. We see it everyday here at Michigan."
Di Giuseppe is an excellent skater with good speed and acceleration. He’s got balance, agility with nice pivots and strides. His superb skating ability and speed makes him quite good in transition as well as being able to get pucks up quickly. He also does a good job of consistently keeping his feet moving.
One attribute that makes Di Giuseppe so dangerous is his hands. He moves the puck exceedingly well and knows what to do with it once it’s on his stick, particularly below the dots. He can make really nice tape-to-tape passes too. His hands and great on-ice vision allows him to find and utilize open spaces/lanes quite effectively.
Di Giuseppe can be relentless in his puck pursuits and isn’t one to give up puck possession easily. He possesses a very good shot and his stick-handling is also quite good.
The weakest area of Di Giuseppe game is on the defensive side. But it is also an area that is a work in progress and should improve with experience and maturation.
So how does Di Giuseppe describe himself as a player?
"I’d describe myself as a skilled player. I’m good with the puck and can bury it sometimes. I’m also a good skater. I think my strengths are my stick-handling, my puck-possession ability and my skating. I’d say my weakness is probably in being more physical. I think I need to be a little bit more physical and be a physical presence."
Di Giuseppe lists one of the Detroit Red Wings‘ top players as his favorite NHL player and the one that he patterns his style of play after.
"My favorite player is Pavel Datsyuk because he’s just so great with the puck. When I watch him, it’s so unbelievable in the way that he’s so patient and so keen with the puck. So I try to do what he does."
What has many in the scouting community excited about Di Giuseppe is his tremendous potential and what he can do with the elite-level skill set that he’s been blessed with. And if what he has shown at the University of Michigan thus far is any indication, Phil Di Giuseppe is certain to have a very bright future ahead of him.
"I don’t think that there should be any excuses for Phil not being a prolific offensive player in college hockey," said Powers of Di Giuseppe’s future potential at Michigan. "He has all the ability and physical stature to be a prominent player and among those in the upper echelon as far as offensive contributions and statistics. He’s shown that he’s got a touch and he’s got a shot. Phil is also clearly a top-notch playmaker too. So as he progresses forward, we’re expecting to see Phil vying for the CCHA’s (scoring) title as a top five or top ten scorer."
Phil Di Giuseppe is projected to go late in the first round or early in the second round in the upcoming NHL Draft in June. He is the highest ranked current collegian appearing on Central Scouting’s Mid-term rankings (28th) as well as the International Scouting Services’ (ISS) January rankings (37th).