General Manager Don Waddell labeled this year a critical one in the development of prospect Angelo Esposito
Apparently, Waddell witnessed plenty of potential in his 19-year-old center during the club’s prospect developmental camp at the Duluth IceForum in Atlanta earlier this month as he agreed to terms with Esposito on a multi-year contract on Friday.
Esposito, originally selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the 2007 Entry Draft, was dealt to Atlanta, along with Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen and a 2008 first-round draft pick (center Daultan Leveille), for Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis, on Feb. 26.
“The trade was initially a big surprise because I didn’t even play a game with Pittsburgh and got traded right off the bat,’’ Esposito told NHL.com. “But I couldn’t be any happier at where I ended up. I was working hard this summer and my goal is certainly to earn a spot on the team. This is the first step in that process and I’ll just keep taking the steps to earn a spot.’’
He hopes one day to have an opportunity to again play for Atlanta coach John Anderson. Esposito appeared in one game with Atlanta’s AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, coached by Anderson at the time.
“I was out in Chicago at the end of the year and he really seemed like a great guy and motivator,’’ Esposito said. “I’m going to work hard and give it all I have to try and earn a spot on this team. My two greatest assets are my instincts and my shot and I’ll try to be as mobile as possible and shoot the puck whenever I can.’’
Esposito captained Team Canada at the 2006 Under-18 Junior World Cup and played at the 2007 World U-18 Championship. In 2005-06, he registered 98 points (39 goals), the second-highest total for a rookie behind Claude Giroux (103 points with the Gatineau Olympiques) in the Quebec Major Junior League. Alongside wings Mathieu Melanson (86 points) and Alex Radulov (152 points), the top line for the Quebec Remparts was the most productive scoring line in the entire QMJHL and helped lead the club to the Memorial Cup. He also received the Mike Bossy Trophy as the best professional prospect in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2006-07.
“It was a good experience going overseas and having an opportunity to play as a captain for Team Canada,’’ Esposito said. “I think everyone is a leader on a team like that, so it wasn’t that hard to motivate those players, but I’ve always considered myself a leader even without that `C’ on my chest. It comes natural to me.’’
Esposito appeared in 56 games with the Remparts of the QMJHL last season and finished third on the team with 69 points (30 goals, 39 assists). He was second on the Remparts in playoff scoring with 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 11 games.
The native of Montreal has recorded 246 points (96 goals, 150 assists) and a plus-69 rating in 173 career regular-season games and 28 points (14 goals) in 39 career playoff games with the Remparts. Esposito was honored as the league’s Top Offensive Rookie and named to the QMJHL All-Rookie Team following the 2005-06 season.
Atlanta Thrashers Director of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Dan Marr said Esposito needed to exhibit that offense flair that enabled him to become the 20th overall draft choice last year.
“Angelo needs to have that summer that will make a difference and turn some heads,’’ said Marr. “We’re being positive and patient with his development. He just needs to get physically stronger to become that good point producer in the NHL. I feel he has put a lot of pressure on his shoulders and he just needs to play his game and be the best he can be. He must understand that he doesn’t need to carry the team but play a part in the team.’’
Esposito realizes September training camp is a critical stage.
“The coaches sat down with me and told me to be myself and give it all I had,’’ he said. “Those are the things I can control and that’s what I intend to do.’’
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.