Since getting drafted in the third round (77th overall) in the 2010 draft, Alex Guptill has had an interesting career. After getting drafted, he committed to the University of Michigan and while he started off a bit slow, he soon became a key member of the team and an integral part to their success.
Since then the team has relied heavily on him for offense; in his first year with the Wolverines, he scored 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points in 41 games. On top of the simple numbers which are impressive and in themselves show a young man with a good amount of potential, he led the team with five powerplay goals and was tied for the team lead with four game winners, showing his penchant for being clutch and putting the puck in the net when his team really needed it.
It looked like the sky was the limit for Alex Guptill after last year; after all he was a Freshman and (like we've seen with Devin Shore) it usually takes Freshmen a little while to adjust to the College game since the jump from second tier junior to the NCAA is often a boys to men type jump. Instead of treading water and slowly learning the game, he burst on the scene and soon became a catalyst for offense.
Something has gone wrong this year, however. It's not obvious from the point totals, he has eleven in 15 games, but coach Red Berenson has elected to bench him in recent weeks, citing concerns with work ethic and personality-related reasons, saying "He's too good a player to keep going the way he's going, particularly his work ethic and his practice habits."
This is very concerning with a guy like Alex Guptill because he's skilled, but doesn't possess the world-beating talent of a top prospect and plays in a league that puts a premium on constantly working hard and plugging away. The NCAA is an extremely physical league where if you can't muscle through guys or at least work hard enough to keep the puck, you're going to get pushed around and victimized a lot. Furthermore, the way his coach phrased the criticism makes it seem as though this is nothing new and perhaps something the coaching staff has already tried to address without changing the lineup.
Alex Guptill needs to find his stride again and realize that he can't make it to the show on skill alone. In order for him to have a shot at the Stars roster in the next few years, he's going to have to show a level of commitment to the game on and off the ice far and away better than what he has now.
The good news in all this is that Alex Guptill is a young player. He's only a sophomore and at the very young age of 20 years old it should be expected that he would hit some ruts. What a lot of people don't realize with these guys since we all get very excited for their potential futures is that they're kids. Alex is 20 years old and still finding his way; we shouldn't get too worried about this because he's still at a time when this will benefit him more than it will hurt.
He's had to work hard and adapt on his way to the NCAA and I'm confident he'll be able to do it again soon; a re-commitment to the game might even further his potential rather than simply regain the confidence of his coaches. Red Berenson is a great coach who runs a fantastic program at the University of Michigan which has boasted many solid NHL players over the years so I think we should have some confidence in him to bring out the best in Guptill and set him back on the right course.
I think that part of benching Alex was to turn him into a more complete hockey player; while this lack of ethic in practice obviously hasn't negatively impacted his point production very much, it probably has impacted him as a leader on a struggling team. If he can come back from this, recommit himself and start to show the extremely hard work that any prospect needs, he has the chance of becoming an emotional and all around leader for the Wolverines, not just an offensive one. If he's able to become that, he will have a much better chance of making the NHL since a lot of the time character, heart, and work ethic mean a lot more than pure skill.
Alex Guptill is at a crossroads in his career that many players face. He has to realize that skill has gotten him so far, but at this point everyone around him has skill. Everyone he lines up next to or across from on the ice has traveled a similar path as him and has the tools to succeed; the difference then becomes drive. He has to realize that since everyone in the NCAA has ability, the ones who rise above are those who work the hardest for it. It's a good life lesson really and one which I think the University of Michigan coaching staff is trying hard to teach him without hurting his development.
This small bump aside, he still has has two things on his side: he's got a ton of time and a lot of skill; all he needs now is the drive to be unsatisfied with very good so that he can strive to be excellent.