In 2006, Esposito was considered the top prospect going into the following year's draft. Then, something happened.
The speedy winger was called lazy by some scouts, not interested in the game by others. When the 2007 draft kicked off, it was obvious Esposito wouldn't go first. But he wouldn't fall much further. Or would he?
Chicago general manager Dale Tallon took Patrick Kane with the first pick; James van Riemsdyk went second to the Flyers. The Panthers may have been temped to take Esposito with the 10th pick, but chose Keaton Ellerby instead.
When the Penguins stepped to the podium and announced Esposito's name, the look of relief on his face was understandable. “It's over now,'' Esposito said then, “and I'm looking forward to the future.''
Things haven't worked out the way Esposito had hoped, although the Panthers are giving him a chance to continue his journey toward the NHL.
Esposito was traded from the Penguins to Atlanta in the Marian Hossa deal in 2008, then came to Florida this offseason for Kenndal McArdle – coincidentally, also a former 20th overall pick.
Esposito has played just 69 minor league games over the past two seasons and has yet to make his NHL debut. In 2008, Esposito suffered a serious knee injury while playing for his junior team in Quebec. Esposito injured the same knee a year later while playing for the Thrashers' minor league team in Chicago.
“It’s been a tough road,'' he said. “I think it’s made me a better person. To have both surgeries back-to-back, you know that really slowed down my progression. I missed about a year and a half, almost two years of hockey. That would hurt anyone. I’m back to where I want to be physically and mentally and feel good. I’m happy I get this new opportunity. It's a new challenge for me out there.''
At 21, Esposito is not aged nor washed up. He has had knee and shoulder problems, but says he's healthy now as he competes for one of only a handful of roster spots. When the Panthers visit Tampa Bay on Friday, he'll be in the starting lineup looking for yet one more shot.
Esposito recorded an assist in Florida's preseason opener on Monday and could play in Saturday's home game against the Lightning as the Panthers try to get as much ice time for prospects as possible.
“Angelo’s going to come in here, and he’s going to get a real good look to show what he can do,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “His potential, that’s our role, is to take advantage of what he can do and to give him that opportunity to show us.''
Last year, Esposito didn't get much of a shot with the Thrashers after getting hurt during training camp.
“The unfortunate part for him is he hasn't been able to stay healthy,'' said Panthers assistant coach Craig Ramsay, head coach of the Thrashers last season. “He has had a couple of tough breaks and that puts you behind. He needs to feel part of something, be involved. One he's involved, he'll show something. He got hurt in camp last year, and we didn't get to see much. Everyone was new then, so we moved on pretty quick.''
The Panthers (1-1) play their third exhibition game of the preseason Friday at St. Pete Times Forum against the host Tampa Bay Lightning before returning home to play host to the Lightning on Saturday. Both games start at 7:30 p.m. (no TV or radio).
Florida will send mostly young players to Tampa on Friday, with a big number of veterans returning to the lineup for the home game. Three of Florida's top prospects – Jonathan Huberdeau, Erik Gudbranson and Jacob Markstrom – will play Friday. Dineen is not against having some of the young players go on consecutive nights.
PETROVIC SENT DOWN
Defenseman Alexander Petrovic, 19, was sent back to his junior team in Red Deer, Alberta, after Thursday's practice. The 36th overall pick in 2010, Petrovic had an outstanding season last year and is considered one of Florida's top prospects.
“If you were basically decisions based on potential, we could keep him here another week,'' Dineen said. “But it's fair to him and to his junior team to get him back in the swing of his team there. We think very highly of him.''
-- Quinton Howden (neck), Anthony Luciani (shoulder) and Scottie Upshall (hip flexor) didn't practice again on Thursday and will not play in either game against the Lightning this weekend.