The Thrashers picked up Angelo Esposito at the trade deadline from the Penguins. (Photo by Mike Dembeck/Getty Images)
By Tom Ferda
ATLANTA - For as long as he can remember, Angelo Esposito has been asked the same thing.
"It's probably the most common question I get in interviews and that question goes way back to when my kindergarten teacher asked if I was related to Phil and Tony Esposito,” said the Atlanta prospect. “I told her I have uncles named Phil and Tony. She asked for their autographs and I said, ‘Sure, I'll get you their autographs.’ "
Young Angelo was thrilled and ran home to tell his parents his teacher gave him the assignment to get Uncle Phil and Uncle Tony's autograph.
Problem was, the Phil and Tony Esposito Angelo was thinking of weren’t the Hockey Hall of Famers his teacher was referring to.
"When I got home my Mom sat me down and explained there was a famous Phil and Tony Esposito who played hockey in the NHL, but we were not related to them," he said with a laugh.
Although they are not related, Angelo and Phil have several similarities. The two share the same birth date, Feb. 20, wear No. 7, and as teens possessed offensive skills that demanded attention from the NHL.
At 16, while playing as a rookie for the Quebec Remparts during the 2005-06 season, Angelo tallied 39 goals and 98 points in 57 games. He went on to win the Michel Bergeron Trophy for offensive rookie of the year, the same award won by Sidney Crosby two years earlier. After that performance, Esposito was suddenly being projected as a future No. 1 overall pick.
Over the next two seasons with the Remparts, Esposito’s numbers dropped off along with the high expectations. Esposito was taken 20th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007 and was later traded to the Atlanta Thrashers as part of a package that sent Marian Hossa to the Pens at the trade deadline in 2008.
After surviving a pressure-filled journey over the past few years, the 19-year-old from Montreal is determined to make a name for himself in the NHL and signed his first pro contract on July 18; a multiple-year deal with the Thrashers.
No longer feeling the weight from the high expectations in 2006, Angelo arrived at Atlanta’s prospect camp this year focused and on a mission.
"I couldn't be happier with the situation I'm in right now,” he said. “I'm here to work hard and earn my spot."
Before Esposito arrived at camp, Thrashers coach John Anderson said he spoke to the youngster.
“I told him the slate’s clean here,” said Anderson. “Let your hockey do the talking.”
Angelo did just that. Coach Anderson and his staff had to be impressed with the way the young center flew around the ice, with moves a player can only be born with.
"It's a team that's rebuilding, there's a new coach behind the bench,” Esposito said. “I'm excited. It presents a great opportunity for me.”
The Thrashers have a roster full of young, developing talent that is expected to include this year’s No. 3 overall pick, Zach Bogosian.
GM Don Waddell confirmed Bogosian would be given a chance to make the team.
And if Bogosian will be given an opportunity, there’s no reason Esposito, should he continue to have a good showing through the Thrashers’ training camp, couldn’t make the jump to the NHL for the 2008-09 campaign.
Should he make the cut, the young star from Montreal will have fulfilled his dream of making it to the big show and have a chance to bring new fame to the Esposito name.
Tom Ferda is a sports writer based in Atlanta covering the NHL Thrashers and is a contributor to THN.com.
To contact Tom Ferda, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.