NHL GMs: Esposito 'perfect' for Penguins
Share with others:
Little more than a week earlier, Anaheim general manager Brian Burke had watched his team win the Stanley Cup.
Now, a full 18 picks into the NHL entry draft, he had an opportunity to claim a player touted as one of the most gifted in the Class of 2007. Who, less than 12 months earlier, had been a near-consensus choice as the top prospect available this year.
Angelo Esposito was sitting there, and there was nothing to prevent Burke from adding him to the Ducks' impressive collection of young talent.
Except that he liked a kid named Logan MacMillan more.
But he did not pass on Esposito, Burke said the next day, because he had any grave concerns about him, or worries about whether Esposito can develop into a significant contributor in the NHL.
"What we project as needs for us, he didn't fit the profile," Burke said. "We have a guy like that in our 1-hole at center in Andy McDonald, and we've drafted some other guys who are more like that."
The Penguins have some highly skilled young centers, too -- probably more than any other club, actually -- but that didn't dissuade them from taking Esposito at No. 20.
And it wasn't a terribly difficult decision. The Penguins were one of several teams that had him in their top 10 -- Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster confirmed that the Lightning did, too -- and they started to develop a particularly keen interest after 14 or 15 clubs passed on Esposito.
"It was interesting to watch, to say the least," assistant GM Chuck Fletcher said.
So is the way Esposito, no worse than a top-three pick on most teams' lists last summer, skidded all the way past the middle of the opening round. Not that anyone could offer a cheap-and-easy explanation for the way his stock plunged.
"Sometimes, it's expectations," Fletcher said. "Sometimes, these kids are put on a pedestal at a young age and proclaimed to be this and that.
"After a while, you start looking for faults instead of for what they do well. The more you see a young player, the more you pick him apart. All these players have faults."
In Esposito's case, scouts from other clubs, speaking on condition of anonymity, cited several perceived flaws: That his passion and intensity are sporadic. That he doesn't always work effectively with his linemates (although all acknowledged how well he meshed with Alexander Radulov, his junior teammate in Quebec). That the skating so often cited as one of his greatest strengths actually is overrated.
GMs disputed that Esposito's intangibles are an issue -- "No one ever questioned those things with us," Burke said -- but it seems to be almost universally accepted that he would prefer to not have the pressure of being his team's go-to guy.
With young, high-profile teammates such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, that shouldn't be a factor with the Penguins.
"We don't need him to come in and be a franchise player," Fletcher said. "We just need him to come in and be a hockey player. So I think it's a very good fit for him."
That the Penguins would stake out such a position isn't surprising, but their perspective seems to be a pretty common one around the league.
"It might be a perfect situation for him," New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello said. "There's nothing wrong with that. As long as you've got that innate desire and that confidence -- and he's got that -- he's fine.
"He's a good pick, especially with Pittsburgh's talent situation. He really is."
"I think it's a great value pick," Feaster said. "I really do, just from where he was on our own list. You know what? I have to believe that when he gets in there and he's playing with Sid and Malkin, he's going to make great music with those guys."
Esposito's point total fell from 98 in 2005-06, when his junior team in Quebec won the Memorial Cup, to 79 last season, after the Remparts graduated a number of key players, including Radulov.
"He dropped off a little in production, but the God-given talent and speed and size that made him successful last year are still there," Fletcher said.
Couple that skill level with the Penguins' personnel situation, Lamoriello said, and Esposito should thrive.
"He has talent, God-given talent," he said. "Certain things, you can't teach. With the people he's going to be surrounded with, with the character young kids you have there, it's just going to pull him in."
If so, Penguins GM Ray Shero might eventually be credited with one of the most shrewd draft choices in franchise history.
"You have to be good and you have to be lucky in this business," Nashville GM David Poile said. "And Ray's got both going right now."Getty Images
Click photo for larger image.
First Published June 24, 2007 11:16 pm