Drafted in the first round (29th overall) by the Anaheim Ducks way back in 2010, Emerson Etem arrived with much fanfare as a local product of the burgeoning talent pool of southern California. The hype was entirely warranted though, as Etem absolutely torched the rough-and-tumble Western Hockey League, lighting the lamp a staggering 61 times in the 65 games of his final major junior season.
Since then, he’s proven he can dominate at the AHL level, leading the Norfolk Admirals in scoring last season. A capable scorer at every level he’s played at, Etem has yet to make a lasting mark in the NHL. At this point in his development, he needs to be playing at hockey’s highest level.
Etem Too Good For The Minors
On a Norfolk Admirals team that barely scratched its way into the playoffs and was mediocre offensively, Etem managed to tally 54 points in 50 games. That’s a pretty damn impressive statistic considering that at the time he was barely old enough to buy a drink in a league of full grown men. With those eye-popping numbers, it’s hard to argue that there’s really anything left for him to learn there.
Not for Bob Murray though, as he promptly sent Etem to Norfolk upon the arrival of the enigmatic Rene Bourque, citing a lack of production from the teams’ depth players as one of the main reasons for the trade and subsequent demotion. Yet playing on the third and fourth lines, there really wasn’t much opportunity for Etem to pile on the points, leading Murray to incorrectly assess his contributions to the team.
Opportunity Knocks In Anaheim
Recent injuries to Corey Perry and Kyle Palmieri have created a gigantic vacuum in Anaheim’s top six. While it is probable that Perry returns to the lineup soon, losing two top six wingers is a difficult challenge for any team to overcome, and it’s left coach Bruce Boudreau scrambling to find line combinations that can replace some of the lost punch. Etem has gotten some looks in the top six, and its paid off as he’s picked up two assists in the last two games. His assist against San Jose was the product of tenacious work along the boards in the offensive zone, allowing Anaheim to retain control of the puck.
That’s an area of his game that still needs work, as is the case for most young professional hockey players, but Etem’s possession game has clearly improved this season, sporting an impressive 52.7 percent of the shot attempt shares when he’s on the ice. That could be a testament to more favorable zone starts or simply improved physical condition, but with only 37.7 percent (per Puckalytics) of his starts coming in the offensive zone, the latter seems more likely. By all indications, Etem is at the very least already a competent NHL player, and given greater responsibility, he can and should be a staple in Anaheim’s top six.