There’s a second line void that needs to be filled. The Canucks must be wondering, who is going to step up?
Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi are good bets to do so, after coming on strong in the second half of the season. How about Jannik Hansen — how much will he produce if Eriksson presumably steals his spot on the top line?
Can Brandon Sutter return to a 20-goal form? Will Jake Virtanen find another gear in his sophomore year? How will Anton Rodin adapt to the NHL after suffering a severe knee injury in January?
There are loads of question marks in the Canucks forward group, making it easy to see why so many pick the Canucks to do poorly this season. Beyond their supremely talented top line, there are no sure bets for offensive production in that fairly young group of forwards.
One name that often gets forgotten in that forward group is Emerson Etem.
After the Canucks finished with the third-worst record in the NHL, it’s easy to forget that they won three of their last five games of the season. The Canucks’ hottest forward over that span was Etem.
Etem finished with four goals and five points in his final five games. He also scored the shootout winner against Edmonton during the Canucks’ final game of the regular season.
It was the biggest offensive outburst of Etem’s short career. He flashed some of that potential that made him a first-round draft pick back in 2010.
Etem’s Time Is Now
Ever since the Anaheim Ducks selected him 29th overall in the 2010 NHL entry draft, Etem has been considered a goal scoring sniper with top-six potential. Two years after he was drafted in 2013, Hockey’s Future considered Etem the Ducks top prospect, ahead of notable NHLers such as John Gibson, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Rickard Rakell.
Etem hasn’t enjoyed the success of his former Anaheim teammates, and the Ducks deemed him expendable following the 2014-15 season. Etem was traded along with a second round draft pick to the New York Rangers for the rights to Carl Hagelin and two other draft picks.
His time with the Rangers was brief and unspectacular, leading the Rangers to deal Etem to the Canucks in exchange for Nicklas Jensen and a 2017 sixth-round draft pick. It was a trade of two former first round picks who had fallen out of favour in their respective organizations.
“In 19 games you have to do more, not only offensive production,” Etem told the New York Post. “It started right from preseason. I didn’t have great production. I was inconsistent [in] just overall play. I think it just bled to the regular season, then you’re trying to play catch-up. That’s what happened.”
Etem is hoping that his last five games with the Canucks are the beginning of his ascent as an NHL player. He started off his AHL career slowly before finding his next gear, and maybe it’s a similar story for Etem in the NHL.
Etem started off slowly in his rookie AHL season, with seven points in his first 26 games. Since then, he has registered 84 points in his last 91 AHL games. He doesn’t have anything else to prove at the AHL level, and now is his time to translate his minor-league goal scoring ability to the NHL.
If Etem flashes some of that goal-scoring prowess that made scouts drool over his top-six potential, then general manager Jim Benning will look like a genius for signing Etem to a one-year, $775,000 contract over the summer.
What Is Etem’s Ceiling?
Despite finishing strong, Etem will likely begin the season on the fourth line, with Markus Granlund and Derek Dorsett. Etem has the size and speed to play on the fourth line, but is that role best suited for him?
Etem had trouble finding the scoresheet through most of his first 39 games in Vancouver. He found some early offensive-zone chemistry with Alex Burrows and Linden Vey, but they weren’t able to produce much in the scoring department.
— Canucks Report (@canucks_fanly) August 20, 2016
Although Etem wasn’t finding his way onto the scoresheet, he played better than his point totals suggested. Etem had the best scoring chances for per 60 minutes of any Canucks player. He also had the worst scoring chances against per 60 minutes, suggesting that Etem wasn’t strong defensively. He has work to do on both sides of the puck, both defensively and offensively in terms of converting on his chances.
At this point, there isn’t a large enough body of work to suggest that Etem should begin the season higher in the lineup. He is behind Daniel Sedin, Baertschi, and newcomer Rodin on the left-wing depth chart. It might not be fair to pencil Rodin ahead of Etem, but it’s clear that Rodin isn’t suited for a fourth line role.
Even if Etem begins the season on the fourth line, there will be an opportunity for him to move up the lineup if he shores things up defensively, and makes an impact when he is on the ice. There is no guarantee Rodin will be up to game speed when the puck drops for Vancouver on Oct. 15. If that’s the case, Etem could begin the season in a third line role.
Burrows might be a better option in that spot if head coach Willie Desjardins is looking for somebody more responsible defensively, but the Canucks need players to step up and score more goals. The Canucks are still searching for players to score goals, and Etem is one of the forgotten candidates.