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Prep Watch: Focused on the future

Mississauga Reps defenseman Gianluca Curcuruto is already 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds at age 16.

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Mississauga Reps defenseman Gianluca Curcuruto is already 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds at age 16.

Mississauga Reps defenseman Gianluca Curcuruto has his eye on reaching the NHL someday. Fortunately, he’s got a couple sources who know a thing or two about the circuit.

Curcuruto’s coach this season is former Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Frank Pietrangelo, whose nephew is rising St. Louis Blues prospect defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. The coach, who has been Curcuruto’s bench boss for five years on various winter and spring hockey teams, has arranged visits from his nephew in the past to give his players pep talks.

“I think it’s a great experience for me and the whole team,” Curcuruto said of the two Pietrangelos’ wisdom. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Coach Pietrangelo is more than happy to impart to his troops some of the lessons he learned at the highest level of the game.

“I try to help all my players with that,” he said. “These kids aspire to be pros.”

For a young blueliner leaning towards a career in the Ontario League, Curcuruto has also listened intently to Alex Pietrangelo’s recent experiences on the same circuit.

“He had to get used to billeting and making the transition from minor hockey to the OHL,” Curcuruto recalled. “From playing against boys to men and the speed of the game at that level.”

Fortunately for Curcuruto, speed has never been a problem.

“Gianluca’s just an elite defenseman,” Frank Pietrangelo said. “Great feet. He’s an excellent skater and that’s what separates him from other players. It will make his transition to the next level that much easier.”

Coming into the season at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Curcuruto practically has NHL size, let alone OHL size. Some Mississauga coaches see a little bit of Chicago’s Brent Seabrook in him, though Curcuruto has gravitated towards a different young Canadian Olympian.

“I like Drew Doughty,” he said. “He’s offensively driven, but he can be a shutdown defenseman.”

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Ironically, Pietrangelo has a very similar assessment of his own young blueliner.

“Because of his skating, he’s a great shutdown defenseman,” the coach noted. “He has tremendous work ethic and his consistency’s great. He’s the anchor of our defense.”

For his part, Curcuruto wants to work on the offensive side of his game, specifically jumping into the play. Apart from his physical skills, the youngster has no problem taking on extra responsibilities on his team.

“I’m a leader,” Curcuruto said. “I help and give for the team.”

According to his coach, Curcuruto’s personality is another strong suit.

“He’s a pretty easy-going guy, always laughing and smiling,” Pietrangelo said. “He’s a good student and he takes criticism well. He can be at the rink every day – and not all kids are like that at his age.”

Still, Curcuruto did just turn 16 in late February, so making the lifestyle jump to the OHL is something he is anticipating with a mixture of excitement and anxiousness, especially since he could be headed far from his Greater Toronto Area home. After all, unless he is taken by Mississauga or Brampton, a career in Sudbury or Sarnia would mean moving away from home.

“I’d probably be a bit nervous at first, but after awhile I would adjust,” he noted. “That’s just the kind of guy I am.”

For whichever team Curcuruto ends up with next season, that squad will be getting a physically gifted defenseman with some major upside.

Prep Watch, which features minor hockey players destined to become big names in major junior or the NCAA, appears every second Thursday throughout the season.

For more great prospect profiles and news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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