Emerson Etem Needs a Bigger Role with the Rangers

Emerson Etem was part of the package that the New York Rangers received in the deal for winger Carl Hagelin. The hope was that Etem could push for a spot right away and possibly fill the void left by his counter part; but after an average pre-season, the winger has been a healthy scratch for all but seven regular-season games. At this point he’s a spare forward, and will remain as such until he jumps off the page and commands more ice-time. That being said, the more the winger rides the pine the less likely he is to ever find his game.

Tapping into the Potential

Etem has exceptional skill, but to crack the New York Rangers’ lineup he will need to be a consistent threat. He obviously has the speed to keep defenders honest, and he has a terrific shot, the issue with him is that he seems to have either one or the other depending on the shift. He has been playing a more physical brand of hockey, with 15 hits in just seven games, so that could help his cause. The next step is for him to find some real chemistry and find a way to force his way into the lineup, the only way he does that is by getting on the board.

Etem’s only real chance came when Rick Nash tweaked his back. I thought he looked great working on the Rangers top line, however his “good play” was again off-set by his “routine play”. It isn’t that  he’s lazy or arrogant, he simply can’t buy a goal right now despite doing a good job of getting to the net. The good news for the Rangers is that when they put Etem with their better offensive players, they saw his play jump. The organization needs to take note of that element and try to continue to slot him into those offensive situations. Right now the Rangers are healthy, but as soon as someone isn’t they need to give number 96 a bigger role.

Getting Stuck

There has to be a certain amount of concern with leaving Etem to linger as a spare forward. When he does get into the game he looks like he’s trying fill a gap rather than play to his strengths. Recently we saw the Rangers scratch fourth-liner Dominic Moore to get Etem some time, his strong play won him some time, but again he was working out of his element grinding on the lower lines. Players with the exceptional upside, can struggle when they are deployed as part of a fourth-line for two main reasons; one is that the player doesn’t get on the ice much so they tend to struggle to find their rhythm, and the second is that they usually end up playing with more defensive minded players and have to adjust their game to that style. It has to be hard bouncing all over a line-up, and when you play with a team that tries to move up the ice as quickly as the Rangers, a pass that’s off by a few inches could end up in the back of the net.

My Take

I certainly understand that Rangers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault needs to deploy his best unit to win; but I also have to think that keeping a 23-year-old out of the lineup could only stand to eat at his confidence, and keep him nice and rusty for the opportunities that he does have. I don’t envy the Rangers’ staff because it’s a hard decision, but I also think it’s on them to find the player some games. The good news for the young forward is that with a bunch of games coming the Rangers way, he should get a few opportunities to win himself a full-time gig.

I think we end up seeing Etem in either one or both of the next two games in place of either Viktor Stalberg or J.T. Miller. The Rangers third-line has been a bit off as of late so maybe the club tries to spark them.