Edging the competition

Angelo Esposito at the Canada National Junior Team Selection Camp at Father David Bauer Arena...

Angelo Esposito at the Canada National Junior Team Selection Camp at Father David Bauer Arena Tuesday, December 12, 2006. (SUN/Kevin Udahl)

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

Those who forever draw parallels between Angelo Esposito and Sidney Crosby are obviously unaware the 17-year-old winger speaks three languages and has designs on studying medicine one day.

They're also probably oblivious to the fact Esposito learned to skate on figure skates.

"I followed in my sister's footsteps and my parents put me into figure skating when I was three," said the 17-year-old Team Canada hopeful with a smile.

"At six my parents put me into hockey and I was doing both at the same time until I was ten. That's when I decided I'd rather be a hockey player."

Does he recall being mocked by any of his teammates?

"Obviously guys made a couple jokes here and there but that didn't bug me," smiled the 6-ft. 1-in., 180-lb. Montreal native.

"My strongest aspect now is my skating and my figure skating helped me a lot."

Esposito -- who is not related to former NHLers Phil or Tony although he has uncles with the same names -- may just get the last laugh should he crack Craig Hartsburg's world junior team lineup.

Touted as a can't-miss top-five draft pick at last summer's NHL draft, Esposito's spot on the Canadian junior squad is anything but a cinch this year.

Cut from the team last year by Brent Sutter as a 16-year-old, Esposito returns with a year of experience that included winning the Memorial Cup with Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts and captaining Team Canada to gold at the Junior World Cup in August.

Bidding to join an elite group of 17-year-olds who've made team Canada in the past, Esposito entered this week's camp at Father Bauer Arena with high expectations and endless Crosby comparisons.

"They compare me to Crosby and all I can say is I'm just a 17-year-old trying to do the best I can do," said Esposito, who sits 10th in QMJHL scoring with 17 goals and 37 helpers in 31 games.

"Crosby is mentioned with guys like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, and it's flattering but you can't make that comparison. Still, I get that in every rink."

Since scoring his first junior goal on his first shot on his first shift, Esposito has been anointed Crosby's replacement as the Quebec League's star ambassador.

Fluent in English, French and Italian, the kid who hopes to study medicine when his playing days are over has not disappointed, displaying speed, hands and smarts that have NHL scouts drooling. That said, Hartsburg insists he won't put anybody on the roster for grooming. He's either good enough to contribute this year or he'll be cut again.

"He's obviously a talented player and the one thing I have noticed so far is he's certainly not afraid to work," said Hartsburg, who opened camp with Esposito on a line with returning stars Steve Downie and former Shattuck/St. Mary's teammate Jonathan Toews, with whom he won a Mac's Midget crown in 2004.

"Last year a lot of it was strength and inexperience. He basically wasn't ready."

Extensive conversations with Roy earlier this season have Esposito prepared to accept any role assigned.

"He told me maybe I won't make it as a first-line player, maybe a third- or fourth-liner and play a lot more defensive," said Esposito of Roy's advice.

"It's a great challenge and I'm working hard to make it happen."

And does he still watch figure skating?

"Not anymore," he laughed. "I might see a channel and say, 'hey, I could've done that.' "

We'll see exactly what he can do all week long.


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