EDMONTON -- Luke Esposito said he feels fortunate to have an impressive hockey pedigree but is eager to carve his own identity in the game.
Esposito, 21, who was invited to Edmonton Oilers development camp, is the nephew of Hockey Hall of Fame member Mark Messier and his great uncle is Murray Murdoch, one of the original New York Rangers, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and a winner of the Lester Patrick Trophy for contributions to hockey in the United States.
"My whole family, coming from a hockey background growing up, you were kind of thrown right into it," Esposito said. "So getting to experience that and having both my uncles, my uncle Mark and my uncle Paul and my grandpa (Doug Messier, Mark's father and a former minor-league coach) available all the way up, and to be able to access all their knowledge and all their experience, has been vital in my career so far and I don't expect that to change. Any questions I've ever had, whether it's the casual postgame hockey talk or anything else, they're always there, so it's great having them around."
A native of Greenwich, Conn., Esposito is heading into his junior year at Harvard University. The 5-foot-8, 182-pound right wing had five goals and 12 assists in 32 games for the Crimson last season.
A solid showing by Esposito here could at least plant the seed of a future professional contract.
"The thing that they preach from the beginning of this camp is that you're not going to earn a contract and you're not going to lose a contract," Esposito said. "It's a development camp in the very sense of the word. They have us here to teach us things. We've been doing some systems stuff and some off-ice training. You obviously want to make a good impression on the organization, but it's really just to learn from the experience and take everything out of it that you can."
A sociology major at Harvard, Esposito is hoping to extend his hockey career post-graduation. Despite his lineage, he knows he's solely responsible for his future in the game.
"For me, the way I look at it, it's about trying to prove wherever I am that it's because of the player I am and not for any other reasons," Esposito said. "Regardless of where you go you're going to get that thrown at you from opposing players or anybody like that. For me, it's just to prove I've earned whatever spot I've been given or any opportunity I've been given and I've tried to stick with that mentality."
At times that could be difficult because of his famous Uncle Mark. a five-time Stanley Cup champion with Edmonton who is considered one of the greatest captains ever, casts a long shadow.
"A little bit, just maybe in the New York area (where Messier won the Stanley Cup for a sixth time with the Rangers)," Esposito said. "But it's such an awesome game and you have every opportunity. Going the college route, I'm just kind of paving my own path for myself. It's obviously there, but I take it more as such an awesome opportunity to have him to talk to and all that stuff rather than a burden."
Esposito said he believes Harvard could compete for a conference title and perhaps the NCAA championship.
"We return all 15 forwards that played and we only lose three players," he said. "We just got ranked fourth in the preseason. While you get the awesome academic aspect, we're going for a national championship just like everybody else. I know with the guys returning we feel confident we can put together a really good year."
A championship season would serve Esposito well in his quest to play professionally. As an undersized forward, he is aware of where his game needs to improve.
"For me, I think to take the next big step is to gain a step in my quickness," he said. "I think once I get up to full speed I can play at any pace. But for me, just the corner stuff and getting my first three steps a little quicker, that will just give me a little more separation to make the plays I want to make."