And his stellar performance thus far as a freshman has earned high marks from legendary Wolverine head coach Red Berenson.
“He’s a year older than the average freshman, but he’s come in and played better than we thought he would. He didn’t have a great two years previous to this with assorted injuries, so we weren’t sure what we were getting,” Berenson said. “But he’s exceeded our expectation, particularly in the goal scoring area and offensively. He’s been our most consistent scorer.”
When he first arrived in Ann Arbor, there were several bumps in the road. That’s because like every freshman, he had to prove himself and earn ice time like every other member of the UM roster.
“Started off like a normal freshman, I was battling for ice time on the fourth line. But I was fortunate enough to get thrown up with two of the older guys-Dave Wohlberg and Chris Brown. Ever since I’ve been up with them, things started taking off,” Guptill said. “Been putting the puck in a bit more now, getting more ice time and relied on more, so it’s been a really good experience so far and I think I’ve made the jump pretty well.”
However, Berenson and Guptill aren’t the only ones pleased with his strong start. Stars Director of Player Personnel Les Jackson also likes what he has seen and offered his own take on why Guptill has hit the ground running with one of the nation’s top college programs.
“Yeah, in the last year and a half, he’s made some big steps forward. He had an opportunity last summer to work with (Stars Player Development Consultant) Gary Roberts. I think it allowed him to get some direction on training and the nutrition part of his lifestyle,” Jackson said. “He’s really embraced the program and he’s really done well in his first year. He’s been an impressive player.”
One of the biggest changes since he first joined the Wolverines was the fact that he started bulking up so he can’t be pushed off the puck quite so easily on either end of the ice.
“Yeah, I’m about 6-3, 195 right now and think I came in at 185. So I’ve already put on 10 pounds. If I’m going to play a lot, I obviously have to bulk up a little more,” Guptill said. “I think my playing weight might be somewhere between 205 and 215. Obviously, in time you have to be able to carry that weight. Right now, I think I’m pretty happy with my weight but moving forward, I’m going to want to put on a little bit more.”
Thus far, he has had nine multi-point games, including a run of four straight earlier this season. The native of Newmarket, Ontario even had an assist in his UM debut on Oct. 4, 2011 against Niagara.
“It was a pretty high-scoring game and I was out of the mix at the beginning of it, but I ended up picking up an assist there in the third period,” Guptill recalled. “Yeah, that was nice to get it over with right away to take the pressure off so you can just go and do your thing.”
But his solid offensive numbers shouldn’t be a surprise, especially considering how well he performed during his three seasons of junior hockey. In 2008-09 with the Brampton Capitals of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL), he had 64 points (30-34-64) in 49 games.
He then had 37 points (19-18-37) in his second season in the OJHL, which was split between Brampton and Orangeville. Guptill spent last season With Waterloo of the United States Hockey League (USHL), where he had 25 points (13-12-25) in 43 games. Even with three years of experience at the junior level, there have still been several aspects of the college game that have been eye openers for him.
“Yeah, I think it was just the size and speed. All the guys here are a lot older obviously. We’re playing guys up to 24-years-old. So that’s a big difference,” Guptill said. “I think it was more taking the summer, really getting ready by putting on weight, growing and developing a bit more. That’s been the biggest adjustment so far, just the size, the speed and the strength of everyone.”
Berenson has seen the same adjustment for the 6-foot-3 forward and is impressed with how well he has acclimated to the nuances of college hockey. “It’s not an easy game. Everyone’s stronger and they play stronger, but Alex is making that adjustment,” he said. “We got his compete level up higher than when he came and he’s getting results.”
Just looking at the numbers he has posted thus far both in juniors as well as in his short time at Michigan, it’s no big secret that offense is his biggest strength.
“I think my biggest strength in my game right now is probably just my skating, getting to the net and battling up front. I’ve scored quality goals just from staying in front of the net, using my body and trying to find open ice,” Guptill said.
But like many offensive-minded players who come to the NCAA, he needs to learn how to become a better two-way player if he’s going to continue his rapid progression.
“Like a lot of young players, he has to learn to play without the puck but he’s learning,” Berenson said. “He’s a coachable kid. He’s a good kid and he’s a good, young player. I’m really pleased with his progress so far. It’s defensively, it’s hard work away from the puck whether it’s back checking or stopping and starting on loose pucks, battling, being harder on the puck.”
And this young forward is definitely open to doing whatever it takes to continue his development at Michigan.
“Obviously, you can improve in everything. I think that’s the biggest thing, if you want to keep scoring here you have to be good every weekend. I think definitely my defensive game is the one thing I’ve been working on so far,” Guptill said. “Red Berenson has been awesome and Brian Wiseman, our two coaches have been really good in helping me out with that. That’s been the biggest adjustment for me so far, learning the defensive side of the game and really being reliable in my own end.”
Before he ever hit the ice for the Big Blue, he was a 2010 draftee of the Stars, definitely a big deal for this up-and-comer.
“It’s definitely a huge honor to be part of the Stars. You see the young guns they have like Jamie Benn
, a guy who went in the fifth round and some of the really good prospects they have. Obviously, Joe Nieuwendyk’s a really amazing guy and a good GM,” Guptill said. “With their new owner there, it’s really exciting to see things are really moving forward for Dallas and for a lot of the prospects as well. I’m really good friends with guys like Reilly Smith
and it’s good to see them do really well. I’m really excited and hopefully I can get there pretty soon.”
However, that’s not the only reason he’s honored to be part of the organization. He also wants to carry on the tradition of Michigan products like current Star Eric Nystrom
and former Dallas goaltender Marty Turco who later played in Big D.
“Yeah, both those guys are huge names here. Nystrom is really known for being a huge Michigan man who loves Michigan. It’s just huge. He’s a good player, skater, works really hard and is a good leader,” Guptill said. “Turco had an unbelievable career. Obviously the pipeline’s kind of there already, even if I become half of what those guys have done, I’ll be really happy with myself. That’s quite an accomplishment.”
Another big plus he sees with being in the Dallas organization is the developmental camps the Stars hold each summer where top prospects assemble for about a week to get some coaching and to also show the club’s brass how they are progressing.
“Those have been huge. They’re just mostly about getting comfortable with the organization. But I think also they’re a pretty good tool to see where you stand with all the other guys,” Guptill said. “Anytime you’re on a stage with all the other best players around, it’s definitely a thing to wake you up and see where you stand. I saw I was a little bit behind everyone else where I should have been and worked really hard this summer to catch up. I think I’ve put myself in a really good place and I’m excited to come back down and see where I stand in another one.”
Like many who play hockey, he has an immense love for the game, a feeling that has been there for most of his life. However, this current Wolverine also hits the rink for another pretty important reason.
“I’ve been skating since I was two-years-old. I think it’s the only sport where you can get out there and forget about all your problems. Any time you have any problems, you can get out there on the ice, just work hard and skate it out,” Guptill said. “I think it’s the only sport I can say that I’ve ever played that I really felt that. That’s what I love most about the sport. The bonds you make with your friends, your teammates and other friendships you make for life it’s been an amazing experience so far. I wouldn’t change any experience I’ve had or any team I’ve played for. It’s been awesome.”