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Imagine being 22 years old and already declared a bust. Now three years later, Angelo Esposito is looking for his last shot with the Fort Wayne Komets.
Esposito, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound center, signed with the Komets on Monday along with forwards Christian Oullet and Alex Hudson and goaltender Pat Nagle. They'll all come to October's training camp with something to prove, but no one has as much as Esposito.
A former No. 1 draft pick (No. 20 overall) of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007, at one time Esposito was thought to be a potential first-overall selection after he put up very good numbers in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. When he produced solid but not spectacular offensive numbers the next two seasons, the Penguins traded Esposito to Atlanta as part of a deal for Marian Hossa.
Esposito responded with a strong season for the Montreal Juniors, scoring 42 points in 35 games, but his year ended in February because of torn anterior cruciate ligament. His leg got caught on the ice and someone fell on it. He tried to come back too soon the next season and suffered another torn ACL in the same knee in November.
Then he could never get right physically, and two years later he was traded to Florida. He continued to battle injuries and played 57 games for three teams in 2011-12 before heading to Europe the last two years. He was healthy but was unable to regain his offensive touch.
``Angelo wants to get back and make another run at his career here,'' Komets coach Gary Graham said. ``He wants to prove that he can still be an NHL-type of player. He's a very humble guy, and he knows this is a real genuine opportunity.''
As much as Esposito's career may have fallen, his attitude has remained high. Former coaches like Jeff Pyle and Jarrod Skalde told Graham they love the kid, but he just needs a break.
``It is frustrating but I'm looking at this like I have to start all over again and make a name for myself,'' Esposito said. ``I think the ECHL is a great place to start, especially in Fort Wayne which is a hockey community. This is my last shot. I have to come out there and prove to myself and to everyone that I can play at the top of my game. I know I can and I have to prove it now.''
Esposito (no relation to NHL greats Tony or Phil) is coming to Fort Wayne on the recommendation of Komets' defenseman Jordon Southorn, a life-long friend from Montreal who said the center has looked great in summer workouts.
``I'm not too worried about what he's going bring to the Komets,'' Southorn said. ``I think he's going to surprise a lot of people. He's a great guy who never let it get to his head that he was a first-round pick. He was raised well. He plays like a Brandon Marino, or maybe a Matt Carter with better skating and a bit more skill.''
Esposito said he's working this summer on getting leaner and quicker for this season when previously he's worked on getting bigger and stronger. He wants to get back to how he played in juniors.
``It's never easy, but when you enjoy playing the game and you go out there every day and get to play hockey, it's hard not to be happy,'' he said. ``I have to be positive. My family has done a great job of supporting me. I'm still young and as long as I work hard and have a good attitude, things will take care of themselves.''