Phil Di Giuseppe doesn’t hold back on the ice and has a physical edge to his game that helped get him to the NHL last season.
Di Giuseppe had two concussions as a rookie, saying they were his first at any level of hockey. But the forward said Friday he won’t change his playing style despite the injuries and possible risks.
“If I don’t play that way, I won’t be here,” Di Giuseppe said. “That’s the way I’ve got to play and I think I’ll be OK.
“I think the concussions were just part of the game. It wasn’t from hitting somebody and it wasn’t me getting blown up or hit.”
Never miss a local story.
Called up from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, the former Michigan player — a second-round draft pick by Carolina in 2012 — made his NHL debut Dec. 5, 2105 against the Montreal Canadiens at PNC Arena. In his first 14 games, he had three goals and five assists, including an assist in the Jan. 2 game against the Nashville Predators.
In the second period, Di Giuseppe and the Preds’ Eric Nystrom crashed into the end boards. Di Giuseppe left the game and would not play again until Jan. 21 against Toronto, missing six games.
“It was kind of like a freak accident,” he said. “I went head-first into the boards. If anything from that, I was grateful I didn’t break my neck or have anything serious.”
Di Giuseppe, 22, said he did not rush to get back in the lineup, patiently following all the concussion protocols.
“I wanted to play but I talked to my parents and it wasn’t worth risking even greater injury and maybe permanent damage,” he said.
Di Giuseppe said the recovery time from his second concussion was not as long as the first, but he did not play again after being injured in the March 24 game at Columbus, missing the final eight games of the season.
After making his debut, which he called a “surreal moment,” Di Giuseppe was later placed on a line with left winger Jeff Skinner and center Victor Rask. The three complemented each other well and the line was effective for Canes coach Bill Peters with the 6-foot, 200-pound Di Giuseppe on the right side.
“I just try to play a simple game,” Di Giuseppe said. “Those two are great players. Rasky is really poised with the puck, really smart, then you’ve got Skinny with the speed and the knack for the net.
“I thought I brought a component just to get in on the forecheck, be the first one in the battle and then let those guys kind of take it from there. I think that’s why it worked.”
It’s hard to say where Di Giuseppe will fit this season. That’s what training camp is for — to sort things out and look at line combinations.
Looking back at last season, Di Giuseppe said, “Off the bat I think I did better than I thought I was going to do. I think I proved to myself I belong on this stage and on this team. It was a big year for me, one of the better years I’ve had.
And this year?
“I feel great, the best I’ve ever felt,” Di Giuseppe said Friday.