One of the first trades that happened during the 2015 NHL Draft was the Rangers acquiring RFA Emerson Etem and the 41st pick from the Ducks for fan favorite RFA Carl Hagelin and the 59th and 179th picks.Not too long after that, on July 14th, the Rangers signed Emerson Etem to a one-year deal with a cap hit of $850,000 (his qualifying offer). Which means that that the 2015-16 season will be a big "show me" year for the alliteratively named American forward.
The Rangers moved the speedy Hagelin to create enough cap space to re-sign Derek Stepan in an offseason that has been defined by Jeff Gorton doing everything he can to build the best team possible despite some serious cap constraints. As Joe pointed out earlier, Jeff Gorton has done exceedingly well given the club's cap constraints this offseason. However, we all might be in for a big headache just about a year from now when Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, and Chris Kreider (RFAs in the 2016 offseason) will be eligible for arbitration. Andrew Gross is already pegging Chris Kreider as a strong candidate for the first Ranger to go through with arbitration since Nik Zherdev. As I wrote about earlier in my piece about Stepan and how close he was to his arbitration hearing, arbitration is bad news for both the club and the player involved.
Anyways, enough about next offseason. Let's take a look at what the Rangers are getting in 23 year old Emerson Etem, a former first round pick of the Anaheim Ducks and what he will bring to the Rangers this upcoming season.
Much like J.T. Miller, a player that Dave Shapiro from Blue Seat Blogs thinks is a good comparison for Etem, the California-born forward was all over the Ducks' lineup and has spent significant time in the AHL in all 3 of his professional seasons with the Ducks organization. Last season Etem had 21 points in 22 games with the Norfolk Admirals and 10 points in 45 games playing with the Ducks while receiving just 12:24 TOI/G. To put that into perspective, in the 53 games he played with the Blueshirts last season the woefully misused Lee Stempniak averaged 12:53 TOI/G. Over the past two seasons Etem has been a better than a point-per-game player at the AHL level, which is a good sign for a winger that was drafted because of his dynamic offensive abilities. Playing primarily with modestly skilled bottom-six players hasn't done much to spark Etem's offense at the NHL level, but there have still been some good signs from the young forward during his time playing the NHL game.
"It's frustrating, but everyone has been through it," he says. "Some longer than others, but at the same time, 80 percent of the league goes through it. At the end of the day, it's hockey, and you're going down there and working on your skill, and as long as [management] know you're working on the things they want you to work on, you'll be back up here." -Etem, OC Weekly
Although there is room for improvement in regards to his play in his own end, Etem has shown that he can drive possession even if those magical hands of his haven't quite made the impact they have the potential to make at the NHL level. A cursory glance at his metrics also tells us that he does a lot of the little things right, even if it hasn't amounted to his team doing a lot of damage in the offensive zone while he is on the ice. I'm sure we've all seen this video a dozen times by now, but this is a prime example of what Etem can bring to the Rangers.
That's just dirty.
Last season Carl Hagelin potted 17 goals (tying his career high from the previous season) for the Rangers in the regular season. Only 1 of those goals came on the man advantage, but 3 of them were empty-netters. Last season with the Ducks Etem scored just 5 goals in 45 NHL appearances, but despite getting a healthy dosage of offensive zone starts he was regularly played with low-quality linemates for the vast majority of his ice time. The comparison to J.T. Miller is starting to make a little bit more sense now, isn't it?
There's no mystery or debate about it, Carl Hagelin is currently a better hockey player than Emerson Etem. I could present you with a player-to-player comparison where we dig deeper into the metrics behind that being the case, but it is already common knowledge. Hagelin is a unique player that the Ducks and their fans are going to fall in love with, but he also would have been a very expensive player for the Rangers to re-sign considering what his role on this team was.
It is worth pointing out that Hagelin is 4 years older than Etem (Haggy turns 27 in August) and while Emerson isn't the cruise missile that Haggy is on the ice, he does possess a similar combination of size and speed that makes Chris Kreider the force of nature that he is. Etem is 2 inches taller and over 20 pounds heavier than Hagelin is as per their NHL.com bio pages. With the acquisition of Etem and Viktor Stalberg this offseason the Rangers have added some size to their lineup without sacrificing a great deal of the speed that was one of their defining traits in their Presidents' Trophy winning season. There have been a lot of concerns about the Rangers being pushed around on the ice and losing puck battles along the boards against more physical teams. Emerson Etem is the kind of guy that is very rarely overpowered or outworked during a puck battle and his upper body strength is something that sets him apart from a lot of other NHL forwards.
Etem has all the tools to be a guy who could score 20 goals in this league, and there is an outside chance that we might see him do just that next season playing on a line with Kevin Hayes as his center. As most of us already know Kevin Hayes has already earned the reputation of being one of the best set-up men in the league. If Hayes and Etem can develop some chemistry we might see the Rangers' third line make an even bigger impact on the scoreboard than it did last season which is something we should all be very excited about on a team that struggled to find its offense when it mattered most in the 2015 Playoffs. Whether we see Viktor Stalberg, Jesper Fast, or someone else on the other wing of that line remains to be seen, but most analysts agree that the third line is going to feature the Californian and the Bostonian 23 year olds.
Etem finished the 2014-15 season with a PDO of 96.8% and a shooting percentage of 6.5% which should tell us that he was probably the recipient of some bad luck. With that being said, Etem has to find more consistency at the NHL level and hopefully a change of scenery and skating with a dynamic playmaker like Kevin Hayes will get Etem scoring the way he was in the WHL and in the AHL. However, it would be a mistake to expect Etem to step right in and instantly become a key cog in the Rangers' offense. With a secured spot in the Rangers' top nine forward group and more ice time than he was getting from Boudreau in Anaheim, Etem has a good chance to put it together and prove why many considered him to be a huge steal late in the first round back in 2010.
Most fans will be tempted to compare what Etem does for the Rangers in the upcoming season with what Carl Hagelin brought to the Rangers over the past four seasons, but they are very different kinds of players. What we should look for out of Etem is him using his size and strength in the offensive zone to create headaches for opposing defenders and goaltenders. We want to see Etem in the high scoring areas, attacking the net, and using those great hands of his to cash in off of chances created by Hayes.
Something tells me that the Rangers' system and Alain Vigneault are good fits for Emerson Etem. He has a high compete level, insane conditioning, great hands, quick feet, and is already familiar with several of the Rangers' young American players from playing in the World Junior Championships. Hopefully the change of scenery, better utilization by his coaching staff, and some linemates with good skill will be all that is necessary to bring out the best in Emerson Etem.
Thanks for Reading. Let's go Rangers.