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Esposito at the WJC

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I've watched two of Team Canada's games at the World Juniors and I'm completely underwhelmed by Angelo Esposito so far. He started off the tournament on a line with uber-prospect John Tavares but did little to impress and was moved to a lower line. He missed on quite a few set up passes from Tavares.

I just finished watching the Canada/USA game and he was rather ineffectual again. The only time he seemed to have the puck is when he attempted Kovalchuk-esque 1 versus 3 offensive rushes while his linemates changed behind the play. He had one great play where he came down the side boards turned the corner on the defenseman and drove across the front of the crease but failed to score. That's pretty much the only thing exciting out of him in two games.

Gare Joyce wrote a book about scouting prospects during Esposito's draft year called "Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts." Esposito entered the year as the leading candidate to be the #1 overall pick after racking up huge point totals while playing along side Alexander Radulov in the Q. Joyce interviewed and watched Esposito multiple times over that draft year. His take is that Esposito seemed to just wilt under the pressure.

Esposito's stock fell during that season and on draft day he ended up falling to #20 where the Pittsburgh Penguins took him. The Thrashers didn't have a 1st rounder because of the Tkachuk trade, but if they probably would have drafted him if they had not dealt their pick. Later when they had the opportunity to acquire him in the Marian Hossa trade they did so. Don Waddell told Esposito "to relax and try to have some fun" in juniors.

Now there are two ways to look at a guy like Esposito. On the one hand, you could say that some 18 year old young men are simply not prepared to handle the scrutiny of being the "best player" in hockey mad Canada--with time Esposito might mature into a tougher individual and become a productive NHLer. On the other hand, the NHL is a pressure packed league and you need guys on your roster who can handle the intensity and bright spotlight of high leverage situations.

The thing that concerns me most about watching Esposito at the WJC so far is that the weight of Canada doesn't rest on his shoulders--John Tavares is carrying that particular cross. This is not his draft year and he's not facing the other team's best defensemen. Yet even with these lower expectations and lower pressure level he looks very ordinary matched up against other top hockey players in his age group.

He was always a high risk/high reward sort of prospect--right now I'm not terribly encouraged by what I see. The guy has skill but seems to really lack the mental composition needed to play versus top competition. He could still turn things around but right now his stock is continuing to fall in my opinion.