Any time a player has not quite been able to find his place with a team and then gets traded, there has to be some sense of optimism and opportunity amid the whirlwind that comes with moving to a new club and city. For winger Emerson Etem though, his trade from Anaheim to the New York Rangers has not made finding a consistent spot in an NHL lineup any easier.
Going into Sunday’s home tilt with the Calgary Flames, Etem was set to dress in just his second regular season game with the Rangers, having been a healthy scratch in eight others. Etem was only getting the opportunity because winger Viktor Stalberg had to sit out following a questionable (at best) hit to the head from Radko Gudas of the Philadelphia Flyers the night before.
Playing on the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Jarret Stoll, Etem made his presence felt and gave head coach Alain Vigneault a lot to think about with respect to his lineup going forward.
A Strong Performance
The 23-year-old former first-round draft pick made the most of his opportunity Sunday night, playing a strong physical game, making smart decisions with the puck, and consistently fighting to get to the front of the net throughout his 11:56 of total ice time. A microcosm of his team, Etem seemed to get stronger as the game progressed. For his efforts, Etem was rewarded with the primary assist — his first point as a Ranger — on what held up to be the game-winning goal by defenseman Dan Girardi.
Etem also worked his way to the top of the goal crease in the first period and just missed putting home a centering feed from Moore. Then, just prior to the Rangers’ third goal, he was robbed by Calgary goalie Jonas Hiller on a rebound putback attempt, but a Flames turnover seconds later put the puck on defenseman Kevin Klein’s stick. Klein proceeded to finish the play off with a goal to pad New York’s lead. The Rangers would add another tally to take the game by a 4-1 final margin.
Etem did not get an assist on Klein’s goal but was an integral part of the play, right in the middle of what was a chaotic sequence for Hiller and the Calgary defense. Those types of play might not show up in the box score, but coaches certainly take notice.
AV says tonight’s game was best Etem has played as a Ranger. He’s included five preseason games and previous reg. season outing.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) October 26, 2015
Sunday night’s strong showing certainly makes Vigneault’s lineup decisions more difficult, but that’s a good problem for him and the Rangers to have. The team does not play again until Friday night when it hosts Toronto.
By then, Stalberg might be healthy enough to rejoin the lineup, but it would be hard to sit Etem after such a good game. Look for him to dress again Friday night and get another opportunity to show Vigneault and the Rangers what he can bring to the table.
If that happens, it’s most likely that one of Stalberg (whether he’s healthy or not) or Jarret Stoll will sit — not that either player has been bad. This is just a byproduct of the Rangers having strong forward depth, and Etem has now proven that he is a part of that.