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Emerson Etem Needs To Be Given A Real Chance

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Emerson Etem can't be treated like a spare part. He needs to be given a chance to become a true cog.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

I have to say I'm surprised that I'm surprised it's taken the fifth game of the year for Emerson Etem to (hopefully) get inserted into the lineup for the first time.

I know, I know. He didn't have a great preseason.

Spare me.

I fully understand players need to earn their own way in the NHL. Just because Etem was acquired for Carl Hagelin doesn't (and shouldn't) make him a lock for a roster spot if he doesn't earn it. But giving Etem -- who is on a totally new team, in a totally new system and a totally new city -- three preseason games and then shelving him for the first four games of the season is crazy. Expecting him to fully acclimate to a new group of teammates in a week and a half is ludicrous. Especially for a kid who is trying to find his way in the NHL.

Which is sort of the problem, no? Etem shouldn't get an advantage because he was the prized jewel in the Hagelin trade; he should be given a shot because he's a 23-year-old kid with a wealth of talent and should have a bright future.

We've talked about this a little before, but Etem's numbers are very similar to J.T. Miller's. Both players had to spend time in the AHL, both players got a limited half-year look in the NHL last year and both players weren't really given a full opportunity when they did make it to the big club.

Let's break down their numbers by league:

Note the note that Miller's NHL numbers do NOT include this year's four assists in four games. Since Etem hasn't had a game yet this year I don't think it's fair to bump Miller's stats up now that he's given a real shot. Trying to keep this as apples to apples as possible.

It should also be noted Etem is -- and was always expected to be -- a better goal scorer than Miller, while Miller has an edge in distribution. I included the GPG and APG as a reference but the PPG levels are almost exactly the same. Outside of Etem having a much bigger body of work in the WHL than Miller did in the OHL, their totals are nearly identical.

Alain Vigneault didn't really utilize Miller all that much in the regular season, similar to what happened with Etem across the coast. In New York Miller played in 58 NHL games last year (23 points) and averaged 12:41 of ice time per game. Etem played in 45 games for the Ducks (10 points) and averaged 12:14 of ice time per game. It's almost eerie how similar the two have been in terms of usage and results.

In the playoffs Vigneault finally kept Miller a staple on the team, but anchored him to the fourth line with Tanner Glass and Dominic Moore. While Miller was supposed to be a very polished prospect overall, his defensive reads were always a weakness. Being forced to babysit a possession anchor didn't really help him produce anything, either. It wasn't until the Eastern Conference Final -- when injuries forced Vigneault's hand -- that Miller was moved up to the top six (even the top line at one point) and started producing thanks to playing with real line mates.

Etem never really got that chance in Anaheim, which is exactly why he needs to be given that chance now.

If Etem is playing tonight it will be on the fourth line, yes, but it will be with Jesper Fast and Moore. A real fourth line doesn't have to be a burden, and that fourth line could easily add some offense and take some offensive zone starts without doing damage to the rest of the lineup.

But playing Etem for 10 minutes, giving him a shift or two on the power play and then judging whether or not he plays the next game off that performance isn't fair to him and it ends up hurting the team in the long run. Vigneault made a comment that he wanted to get Etem in the lineup after the loss to the Jets, but what took so long?

The same comments were made about Anthony Duclair (who despite posting 7 points in 18 limited games with the Rangers) was shipped back to juniors and then was traded away for Keith Yandle. Duclair, by the way, had a hat trick for Phoenix last night and has five points in three games.

The same comments were made about Miller last year, who did play in 58 games, but they weren't exactly true opportunities. These comments have been made before and nothing has really come from it.

This isn't to say Etem should be playing 20 minutes a night and getting all the power play time. This is to say that if Etem does only play 12 minutes and he doesn't blow the doors off it's okay. He needs to be given a longer leash so he can acclimate to a new system and a new team.

Miller was finally given the chance to do that in the playoffs last year and the confidence has obviously carried over. He's tied -- with Oscar Lindberg of all people -- for the team lead in points with four assists so far in four games. Miller became a vital part of last year's playoff offense the games he was given the opportunity to do some damage.

Etem needs to be given the same chances, and it needs to happen now. I get it, Etem isn't really a fourth line player, but that's a million times better for both the team and his development than him not playing at all. If it comes at the expense of Jarret Stoll it's fine. If it comes at the expense of ... others, fantastic.

Scouting reports -- which, of course, don't mean everything -- mark him as a top-six talent with an outside chance to be a lethal sniper. His ability to score (as shown with his GPG percentages in the AHL and the WHL) is there. The speed is there. The desire is there. The decision making and the execution hasn't been. But give him a shot and it might be.

Otherwise this is another classic example of mismanaging assets. When the Rangers acquired Etem Jeff Gorton couldn't stop smiling as he told everyone the Rangers had been keeping tabs on him since his draft year. Hagelin was not a throwaway player who they were lucky to get anything in return for. Hagelin is a legitimate player with legitimate worth who could (and did) bring in a legitimate return.

To not give that return a chance to help make this team better is crazy, but it's not like it hasn't happened before.

Let's hope it doesn't happen again.