“Consistency.” That’s the one thing Phil Di Giuseppe (pronounced “Dee-Jah-Zeppy”) lacked during his long tenure in Carolina, according to one of the men who’s job it was to monitor his development. It’s reflected in his career arc, in his stat’s, since being drafted by the Hurricanes in the 2nd-round out of the University of Michigan in 2012. He played 147 games with the big club in Raleigh and 160 more in Charlotte of the AHL, both in the state of North Carolina, before being waived in January of 2019. After just three games with the Nashville Predators, the team that claimed him, a stint with two more AHL clubs and a decent look the last two seasons with the New York Rangers, Di Giuseppe signed with the Vancouver Canucks this summer.
Generally speaking he’s had a productive camp and preseason thus far, and will be one of the left wingers in the line-up when the team plays in Calgary this evening (Friday). With projected 4th-line left wing Tyler Motte still out of the line-up recovering from surgery, there’s availability.
“I think no matter where you are in the line-up at whatever point of the season, beginning, middle, end, you’re always fighting for something,” Di Giuseppe told the media on Wednesday. “Whether you’re a top line guy, 2nd, 3rd, regardless, I think everyone’s in a dog fight of their own. I think good competition only makes you better, so there’s great players here and I think it makes me better to outplay so-and-so. I haven’t looked at it like that, I just try to do the best I can, focus on myself, but I think it makes the team better as a whole.”
With a few other players still missing from camp, including Brandon Sutter, out for reasons the team seems reluctant to discuss, the club is trying different things on special teams, including the penalty kill. That would include Di Guiseppe, in a role that’s somewhat new to him.
“I think it suits my game,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve had a chance to do much of it in my career. I was a skill guy, but now I think my defensive game has gotten strong, so I think where I’m at in my career and how I can skate and defend, I think it does suit me. I’m doing video and trying to brush up on it. Felt good last game, there’s some little things I’ve gotta tweak but overall I felt good, I felt comfortable.”
It’s a hockey player chronology that’s unfolded literally hundreds and hundreds of times: Skilled, high scorer in college or juniors among lesser competition, forced to change roles as those faster, quicker and with more dangle pass you by. It often means adapting in whatever way a player can to stay on an NHL roster.
“When I went to Michigan I was pure skill, as you move up the ranks, if you’re not scoring, you have to add some value to other areas of the game,” Di Giuseppe confirmed. “I’m just paying attention to detail, getting above guys, forechecking well, back-checking well, it’s the little things that when you have had success offensively and it may slip a bit.”
Special teams add ice time and value to a player. Di Giuseppe was a 4th-liner in New York who averaged what one would expect, about ten minutes a night. The 27-year-old from Toronto is convinced his best lies ahead, although he’s been riding the NHL/AHL fence as recently as 2019-’20 when he played in 43 games for the American League’s Hartford Wolf Pack.
“To be honest I think I’m an NHL player, it’s something over the last seven years I’ve had to prove everyday, but I know what I’m capable of and I know my ceiling is much higher than what I’ve accomplished so far,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process, I know every day is an audition and I take every rep’, every drill, every second out there serious.”
Di Giuseppe has the benefit of working with a coach in Travis Green who reminds him in certain ways to his former assistant and later head coach in Carolina, Rod Brind’amour. “It’s very fast paced, emphasis to forecheck, attention to detail,” Di Giuseppe pointed out.
He’ll get another taste of that style Friday evening. Another opportunity.
“I don’t think anything is accomplished yet,” Di Giuseppe added. “When I signed here I had a blueprint for what I had to do, so far it’s just been about working.”