Luke Esposito | Griffins Center | WingsNation ContributionJune 29, 2018
luke esposito – griffins center making mark in rookie season
Originally posted on wingsnation.com
The Griffins roster has seen several changes throughout the season. Due to their partnership with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye, players are constantly floating between the two teams as needed. Among those up-and-down transactions, the Griffins acquired forward, Luke Esposito. Taking a non-traditional route to the pros, nearly completely bypassing juniors, he has leapfrogged front and center.
At 16, Esposito joined the Brunswick School Prep hockey team. Luke would spend most of his developmental years at Brunswick and one season with the Mercer Chiefs 16UA, a travel hockey program. Unlike many of his counterparts, Esposito did not join an OHL or USHL team for his scouting or discovery – rather came out of the blue it would seem. Despite not having the platform to perform like other kids his age, Esposito thrived in his high school years. Averaging about 32 points a season and 47 in 2011-2012, Luke made himself as known as he could given his surroundings. Luke joined the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs in 2012-2013. Esposito finished his season with 71 points in 55 games and carried with him a host of awards – “Rookie of the Year” and “Most Assists” being among them.
Following what could be considered his junior years, Esposito did what any other college age kid with no pro contract would do – he went to college. Much like former Griffin Kyle Criscuolo, Harvard was where his NCAA roots were planted. While pursuing his higher-education, a battle in and of itself, Esposito also thrived with his new teammates. The NCAA schedule is short but rigorous. Often demanding a few practices a day along with workouts, team meetings on top of regular study, its a format that separates the weak from the strong. Thankfully for Luke, his thirst for the competitive and persevering nature allowed him to thrive under such pressure. Averaging 17 points each season (typically NCAA season is about 36 games), Esposito demonstrated clockwork consistency.
Much like his prep-school days, his senior year was his crowning jewel. Finishing out his 2016-2017 college year with 36 points in 36 games, it was clear that hockey was much more than a way to pass the time. His continued improvement and consistent production got attention and earned an invite to the Detroit Red Wings Prospect Tournament.
Skating alongside current Griffins Dominik Shine and Libor Sulak, Esposito found himself center-stage in front of the higher powers in the Red Wings organization. It was stiff competition not only with those invited by the Red Wings but with all the “original six” NHL teams that also participate in the event. The Wings were impressed with what they saw in the witty centerman/left-winger and offered him a deal. A few weeks later, Esposito was skating alongside the ECHL’s best with the Toledo Walleye.
Luke had his sights set on Grand Rapids, so landing in Toledo wasn’t exactly what he had imagined his rookie year looks like. He was determined, however, to make a difference wherever he ended up. “When I signed (in) college, this (Grand Rapids) is where I wanted to be,” Esposito told WingsNation, “The first half of the year obviously didn’t turn out the way I was hoping it would. But I had a lot of time to work with the coaches on the ice and off the ice and just fine-tune my game so that when I did get a chance, I was ready to play.” So for the fourteen games, Esposito skated for the Walleye, he made the most of it. Gathering a few points and creating offensive pressure for his teammates, Luke was determined to continue to work hard and earn the call-up.
The call-up eventually came for Esposito but he wasn’t seeing as much ice as he would have hoped. In standard Griffins-style, ice is earned, no exceptions. Though Luke was a proven skater and an offensive weapon, he had to show head coach Todd Nelson, that he was worth putting in the lineup. The time between games was difficult for the rookie, “It’s tough when you’re in and out of the lineup especially a couple weeks between games.” said Esposito. The struggle was short-lived, however, as Esposito formed a bond with Griffins captain, Matt Ford. “He’s been unbelievable for me (and) for everybody I think as a leader,” Luke stated, “For me, he’s played in this league a long time (and) pro hockey a long time so I think he understood the struggle that I went through at the beginning of the season and the perseverance I had to stay with it.” The captain’s on and off ice encouragement proved to be just the thing Esposito needed to boost his game.
Creating a game that is unique to him, Luke is constantly honing his skill set and trying to be as versatile as he can be. “I think a lot of smaller centermen you see are offensive-minded so I try to stand out and play both sides of the puck. Obviously chip in offensively when I can – especially depending on where I’m playing in the lineup. I don’t want to give anything up on the defensive side and I think that’s where I can help the team. They’re not losing anything with me on the ice.” Much like defensemen are becoming stronger two-way players with an offensive edge, wingers and centers alike are having to create a more defensive style of play. In the absence of Dominic Turgeon (LTIR), Esposito has seen much more center-lane action and will continue to do so, but he doesn’t seem to mind. “When I first got into the lineup for this last stretch of games, I was able to help out offensively. With Turgeon out, that’ll be something the team just needs depth of scoring,” he told WingsNation.
There’s no lack of scorers on the Griffins’ roster, and Esposito is steadily moving his way up the ladder. Apart from working on his “200-foot game,” Esposito had been doing some off-ice studying watching shootout highlight reels of Mats Zuccarello (NYR). Unbeknownst to him at the time, his newly learned moves from these highlight reels would come in handy. In two critical shootout victories towards the close of the regular season, Coach Nelson called on Esposito. Failing on his first attempt, he was determined to do Coach’s trust justice – and he did. Scoring twice in two shoot-out decided games, Luke demonstrated his magic touch which was as much of a surprise to him as it was for the fans, who even by this time, didn’t know where this kid came from. “I never considered myself much of a breakaway or shootout expert,” Luke told me post-game one evening, “I practiced that move and when I got a chance to do it, Nellie stuck with me after I missed the first attempt and was able to score the next two.”
See Esposito’s Shoot-Out Goal
Having played 31 games for the Griffins this season (including post-season), Esposito has earned eight points. Though his rookie numbers are not staggeringly impressive, it’s what Esposito brings to the ice each game beyond the points that sets him apart. Like others in his situation, such as Dominik Shine and Turner Elson, Esposito has to fight for every inch of ice. Having to prove his worth, Luke brings a steely determination to every shift. He plays with passion and control, rarely seeing time in the box (10 minutes total for the season). He is a very fast skater and that’s where his strongest asset lies. Esposito can split the defense quick enough to get the puck in deep to the offensive zone. He’s smart with the puck, not reckless with passes and can create the energy needed to drive an offensive rush.
Since Esposito was signed for a year contract with the Griffins and nothing beyond as of yet, his fate is uncertain. Though it’s likely that the Red Wings higher-ups have noticed his abilities and skating strength, he’s up against some of the most outstanding rookies the league has seen yet. He has demonstrated the ability to take advantage of on and off ice instruction and enact it, but it is uncertain if this alone is enough for a contract renewal. Luke would be considered a utility player, in my opinion. Not a point producer (yet) but able to adapt to several positions where needed. The Griffins roster is becoming loaded with incoming talent from Toledo and draft picks now eligible to move in, so it’s highly likely that Esposito will be reassigned to Toledo next season or traded.
In either case, Luke has the foundation for a very strong game going forward. He has a calm demeanor which is not easily dissuaded. He’ll be a strong asset to any team given his speed and versatility. With his background and ability to do things off the beaten path, Esposito will no doubt be able to maneuver in any organization with ease and confidence.