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Sweet skater Angelo Esposito figures to go high in NHL draft
Canadian Press
Jan 17, 2007, 6:34 PM EST


QUEBEC (CP) - Anyone who sees Angelo Esposito play hockey remarks on his strong, smooth skating stride.

What they may not know is that part of it comes from his training as a figure skater as a child. The Quebec Remparts star, currently ranked as the top North American prospect for the NHL draft in June, followed his older sister Josephine into figure skating at age three.

He only started in hockey at six, but decided at 10 he preferred the rough of hockey to the tumble of figure skating.

"Figure skating was a big factor in my skating," Esposito said Wednesday before the Top Prospects Game at the Pepsi Colisee. "I did competitions when I was younger. But at 10, I wanted to play hockey. I had more heart to play hockey than to figure skate."

The six-foot-one 175-pound centre from Montreal has flourished on the hockey rink.

The 17-year-old stands out among the 40 draft-eligible players assembled for the annual Top Prospects game not only because he will be playing in the defending Memorial Cup champion Remparts' home rink.

He has been watched closely by scouts for at least two years. Some see him going No. 1 overall in the draft.

"It's flattering to hear, but it doesn't mean anything until June comes," he said. "It's always been a dream to be drafted into the NHL and play there one day, but it's still a long way off and my focus now is on the Remparts and on winning and doing the best we can.

"It's just a dream to be No. 1. If I go first overall to any team I'll be happy."

While scouts like his skating and playmaking, Esposito is not yet considered a consensus No. 1 in the way that Sidney Crosby was in 2005 or Alexander Ovechkin in 2004.

Prospects like London Knights forwards Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane, defenceman Karl Alzner of the Calgary Hitmen and some others may still claim that prize with a strong second half of the season.

While Esposito is among the most dangerous offensive threats in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he has not dominated as Crosby did with the Rimouski Oceanic.

And he was cut for a second year in a row from Canada's world junior championship squad, although he went to camp with a sore back.

"That's not an excuse - I still could have played better," he said of the camp. "It happened, and we'll just move on."

One NHL Quebec-based scout cautioned against any comparisons with Crosby or former No. 1 overall pick Vincent Lacavalier.

"To compare him with Crosby is a lot," the scout said. "He's got talent. He sees the ice well and he doesn't take a lot of shifts off.

"He works hard. He just needs to get stronger physically for the one-on-one battles."

As Esposito skated with his Top Prospects teammates Wednesday morning, his father John Esposito Sr. and agent Phil Lecavalier, brother of Vincent, watched from the seats.

John Sr. helped build the family business from the neighbourhood store his immigrant father started in 1950 to a successful chain of three Esposito food markets in Montreal.

He never played hockey, although his younger brothers Phil and Tony did, but they are no relation to the Phil and Tony Espositos now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I only started learning about offsides and icing a few years ago," John Sr. said. "In a way, that helps.

"I can't criticize him. I only told him to work hard." He did. John Sr. recalls Angelo getting up at the crack of dawn to work on his shooting in the basement. Even now, in the off-seasons, he said his son is in bed by 8:30 p.m. so he can get up early to train.

"I'm happy for him," John Sr. said of Angelo. "He worked hard since he was a kid.

"He went to hockey camps and his coaches always said he was a pleasure to work with."

Unlike many top players, who grew up on farms or in working class neighbourhoods and battled their way to the NHL, Esposito grew up in the posh Town of Mount Royal in Montreal.

When he showed promise in hockey, he was sent to Shattuck St. Mary's in Minnesota, the same high school Crosby attended, for a year of development before joining the Remparts.

Angelo's 15-year-old brother John Jr. is currently playing hockey at Notre Dame College in Saskatchewan and may be a top prospect of the future.

But their father didn't let his kids settle into comfortable mediocrity.

"In my house, it's not easy," he said. "We're comfortable, we're OK, but I don't give you everything. If you want something, you have to work.

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He never played hockey, although his younger brothers Phil and Tony did, but they are no relation to the Phil and Tony Espositos now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
What a coincidence! Having 2 brothers named Phil and Tony with the last name Esposito.

Anyways, I personally don't think Esposito will be first overall like he was projected to go. It's going to be a recap of what happened to Phil Kessel. But I don't really see him in the top 5 either. There are so many great prospects this year.
 
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