Penguins Training Camp: Esposito working for a spot on Penguins' roster

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MONTREAL -- Angelo Esposito is fluent in both of his nation's official languages, slipping from French to English as effortlessly as he pulls the puck from forehand to backhand.


Today
  • Who: Penguins vs Canadiens, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Bell Center, Montreal
  • What: 2007 Exhibition opener

But Esposito, the Penguins' No. 1 choice in the June entry draft, wouldn't have to speak a syllable of either to appreciate the daunting challenge of earning a place on the Penguins' NHL roster this fall.

He would simply have to recognize a few numbers, and the names that go with them, to grasp how much elite young talent the Penguins have at his natural position of center. To wit:

87 (Sidney Crosby).

71 (Evgeni Malkin).

11 (Jordan Staal).

Because of the franchise's bounty of quality players in the middle, Esposito has been used on left wing in the early days of camp, with center Maxime Talbot and right winger Adam Hall as linemates.

The left side isn't entirely alien turf for him -- he got some work there while playing junior hockey in Quebec last season -- but the Penguins are not ready to proclaim that to be his long-term niche.

Staal, remember, got extensive work in the left side in 2006-07, but now is penciled in to play center.

"It's no different than with Jordan," general manager Ray Shero said yesterday. "If you're a good player and a smart player, like they are, you can play center or wing. I think it's a benefit for him, to learn how to play both positions.

"We'll just wait to see, long-term, what this brings us. The same thing with Jordan. Now he's at center, but he's a real good player. He can play both, depending on what our needs are moving forward."

Regardless of how management classifies him, it seems extremely unlikely that Esposito will spend this winter with the Penguins.

They have a surplus of NHL-caliber talent up front, so there is no need to force-feed the league to Esposito instead of sending him back to the junior league Quebec Remparts.

"Just like everyone else, you want to make the team, but if I don't make this team this year, I'm still young," Esposito said. "I want to come in here and learn a lot and we'll see what happens."

No matter what transpires the next few weeks, Esposito figures to take at least one enduring memory out of this camp: He is expected to be in the lineup when the Penguins face Montreal in a preseason game tonight at 7:38 p.m. at the Bell Centre.

For most of the Penguins, these will just be the first two in a series of six exhibition games that will help to determine the makeup of the team that will visit Carolina in the regular-season opener Oct. 5.

But for Esposito, who never has played at the Bell Centre, it will be an opportunity to perform before a hometown crowd with a pro team for the first time.

"It's going to be special," he said.

My first exhibition game, and it's in the Bell Centre. I'm looking forward to it."

Esposito still is feeling the effects of a groin injury, and said a training-camp scrimmage Friday was the first time he had competed at such a high pace "in about a month."

His introduction to pro hockey came that day when Ryan Malone delivered a corpuscle-rattling hit behind the net.

"It's a fast pace and it's a tough game," Esposito said. "But I'm going to have to adapt and do my best."

Esposito said his objective in every preseason game in which he plays will be to "play my best game ... and go from there," and was adamant that he's not feeling any inordinate pressure to perform.

"I'm not here to save the team," Esposito said. "There are seven or eight players on this team already who are doing that. I just want to make my spot here, just play my game and have fun."

NOTES -- Jarkko Ruutu's shootout goal gave the White a 3-2 victory against Black in yesterday's scrimmage. Evgeni Malkin and Erik Christensen got the other White goals, while Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Filewich scored for Black. ... The Penguins pared their training-camp roster to 41 by assigning forwards Aaron Boogaard, Kurtis McLean, Kyle Rank, Joe Jensen and Mark Letestu, defensemen Paul Bissonnette, Mark Ardelan, Deryk Engellenad and Jonathan D'Aversa and goalie David Brown to their minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre. ... Tickets for the Penguins' outdoor game in Buffalo Jan. 1 will be available tomorrow at 10 a.m. at TicketMaster outlets and its Web site. The Penguins do not have any direct involvement with ticket sales for that game.


Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .


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