Every year, there tends to be an unsung hero from NHL training camps.
Well, in Vancouver, for two years in a row, that unsung hero has been Phil Di Giuseppe.
Despite looking like an NHLer during training camp and preseason last year, the Toronto native didn’t play a single NHL game for the Vancouver Canucks in 2021-22.
He was a surprise cut during training camp in 2021 despite showing good chemistry (especially on the penalty kill) with Jason Dickinson.
Heck, maybe if the Canucks didn’t cut Dickinson’s primary partner at forward, they could have gotten a little more out of the 2021 offseason acquisition.
Regardless, there’s an opportunity for Di Giuseppe to make the Canucks’ opening night roster, and he’s only boosted his chances of earning a spot since training camp started.
Seize the opportunity
When CHEK TV’s Rick Dhaliwal talked to Canucks President Jim Rutherford about training camp standouts, Di Giuseppe’s name was mentioned.
Rutherford – Di Giuseppe, Silovs and Rathbone looked good in Whistler.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) September 26, 2022
It’s natural for top prospects like Arturs Silovs and Jack Rathbone to stand out. It’s another thing entirely when a veteran depth player is able to draw attention.
At the beginning of training camp, there didn’t seem to be a clear path for Di Giuseppe to make the team. He seemed destined to play in the AHL once again.
That narrative has changed, in part because the 28-year-old has stood out, but also because the Canucks have suffered a couple of key injuries at forward.
Both Brock Boeser and Ilya Mikheyev look like they could miss the start of the season, which opens the door for Di Giuseppe to make this team immediately.
“Any opportunity I’m given, [I’ll] try to seize whatever role I’m placed in and prove myself. It’s not easy getting cut, but I got a chance to play big minutes [in the AHL last season] and continue to grow my game,” Di Giuseppe told reporters on Thursday.
— Abbotsford Canucks (@abbycanucks) June 3, 2022
Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau talked to reporters about Di Giuseppe’s opportunity after practice on Wednesday.
“I thought he was good in Carolina and in New York when I’ve watched him from afar,” said Boudreau. “He can skate, he’s big and he doesn’t mind playing physical. I think, last year, he didn’t make it out of camp, then he broke his leg and he got injured. I wanted to call him up and he did something else to himself… so it was just a wasted year.
“With a couple of guys hurt, he’s going to get every chance to show how good he can be and hopefully he can push other people for jobs.”
Canucks need two-way players like Di Giuseppe
The Canucks originally signed Di Giuseppe in 2021 in an effort to improve their stable of two-way forwards.
When he's playing in the league, Phil Di Giuseppe is a competent defensive player.
Should offer nice depth in the AHL for VAN pic.twitter.com/3c0m1HJpgP
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) July 28, 2021
“I was a skill guy. Now, my defensive game has gotten strong. It’s something I’ve focused on,” Di Giuseppe told reporters in 2021.
The 6-foot, 193-pound forward is now getting an opportunity to show how he fares in a bottom-six, penalty-killing role.
Because of injuries, Di Giuseppe spent Wednesday’s practice skating on a line with Dakota Joshua and Jason Dickinson. He also was paired with Nils Aman on the Canucks’ de facto fourth penalty-killing unit, shown below by Sportsnet 650’s Brendan Batchelor.
PK units at #Canucks practice
— Brendan Batchelor (@BatchHockey) September 28, 2022
The fact that he’s on a fourth penalty-killing unit shows that Di Giuseppe still has work to do if he really wants to make this team.
However, the opportunity is there.
The Canucks seem intent on giving Dakota Joshua every chance to show that he’s an everyday fourth-liner who can kill penalties. He’s also relatively unproven in that role, with only 30 games of NHL experience.
Despite not playing in the NHL last season, Di Giuseppe has logged 201 games of NHL experience in his career.
If he continues to impress during the preseason, chances are that he’ll play a few more NHL games in October for the Canucks.