Talk to people about Dallas Stars prospect Alex Guptill and one word that comes up often is skill. The 22-year-old left wing has a lot of it. He has a great shot and a track record of putting up some good offensive numbers in junior hockey and in college. Now, the Stars are hoping the third round pick (77th overall) in the 2010 NHL Draft can put his skills to good use in the pro ranks.
“He’s got good size, he’s about 6-3, 215 pounds. He has real good skills, skates well, handles the puck well,” said Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill. “He just needs to learn the pro game, the short shifts, the north-south game. He’s got all the tools and now it’s up to him to develop and make the most of them.”
Guptill is already getting a head start on that pro career, passing up his senior year of eligibility at the University of Michigan to sign a two-year entry-level deal with the Dallas Stars in late March. He then signed an amateur tryout contract with the Texas Stars, joining the AHL club in early April.
“It’s a pretty good opportunity to come in and learn a little bit,” Guptill said. “It’s been a good experience so far.”
Guptill has been patient with his development. After the Stars drafted him out of Junior A hockey in Canada, Guptill played one season in the United States Hockey League and then headed to Michigan, where he played for three seasons.
Guptill registered 94 points (44 goals, 50 assists) in 110 games during his three-year career. He was the CCHA Rookie of the Year in 2011-12, tying for the team lead in goal scoring (16 in 41 games) as a freshman. As a sophomore he registered 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 38 games and led the team in both goals and points. He finished third on the team in scoring this past season, registering 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in 31 games.
“It was a good three years. I had a ton of fun. The guys on the team were great. It was a good experience to get three years of school done,” said Guptill, who will continue to work on earning his degree. “I thought maybe I was ready [to turn pro] after my sophomore year, they offered me but I just didn’t quite feel ready. I went for one more year and I think I am definitely ready to go pro and am happy I made the decision to go now.”
There was plenty to learn in Ann Arbor from the legendary Red Berenson, who has been the Wolverines’ bench boss for 30 seasons.
“It was a unique opportunity,” said Guptill. “Not a lot of guys get to say they did that. He’s been there 30 years, and that’s pretty impressive. I learned quite a lot and I think I can bring that here.”
There were some ups and downs in the Berenson-Guptill relationship over the three years, including some healthy scratches as the coach tried to send a message to the young player. Messages that Guptill said were difficult to hear, but eventually appreciated.
“He was definitely hard on me, probably for the better,” said Guptill. “[Being scratched] is a humbling experience, but it resets you and brings you back down to earth. … I am out of the college atmosphere now and am looking forward to maturing my game. He was hard on me, I appreciate what he did for me and he always had my back.”
Since joining Texas, Guptill has played in five regular season games, registering two assists, nine shots on goal and an even rating. As is the case with any player making the jump from college to pro, there’s an adjustment.
“It’s the size of the guys, the speed and the strength,” said Guptill. “It’s harder here to battle in the corner. You can’t lose your one-on-one battles. It’s been a learning process.”
Although he’s watched more than he’s played during his time with Texas, the Stars believe Guptill will gain valuable experience from those five games and will soak in a lot just being around the team. All of it will give him a good idea of where he needs to improve and what he needs to work on this summer as he prepares to become a full-time professional.
“It’s getting down my two-way game. I think I have the offensive side down,” said Guptill. “I need to work on conditioning. I want to have a good summer and come in and compete hard for a good roster spot.”
Guptill is expected to play with Texas next season. Chances are he might have to work his way up the ladder to a top six offensive role, but the organization believes he has all the tools to do that.
“Guptill has really good skill. He’s a big guy, lots of good skill,” said Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins. “He’s going to have to find a different role than he was used in college, instead of being on the first line playing on the third or fourth to get going. But he has the skill of a first line player and he’s got size. He has everything you need in a player and he’s got a real big upside.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.