Every preseason it seems one or two players who are expected to make the team easily struggle. It happens to every team and it happens every year. The New York Rangers are, of course, not an exception to this rule -- although the reactions when this happen sometimes border on silly.
This is one of those times.
Emerson Etem -- acquired in an NHL Entry Draft trade with Anaheim -- hasn't had the best preseason. While he's shown flashes of brilliance and had a few shifts that make you realize how good he could be, he's also struggled with offensive reads and hasn't made the best decisions. It really does look like he's trying to do too much with the puck on his stick, but it's also worth noting he's still raw and needs time to polish.
That hasn't stopped a few beat reporters from assuming he's fighting with Tanner Glass for the final roster spot. I actually had to re-read some of those comments to make sure they weren't tongue in cheek. They weren't. I'm not sure if those comments are fueled more by people still thinking fighting and toughness have a role on winning teams or people protecting their defense of Glass' role last year and not wanting to turn heel now. Either way it's a little silly.
Not everyone is like that, of course. Sean Hartnett thanksfully has brought some logic to the table on this subject (and others, too, of course):
The Rangers could have moved Hagelin in a number of draft day deals. Etem was their pick of the litter. He's going nowhere, he's NHL talent.— Sean Hartnett (@HartnettHockey) September 27, 2015
I made the point myself when this surfaced during the win over the Devils. The Rangers made a down payment on Etem. Like it or not they leveraged Carl Hagelin (who they couldn't afford to keep anyway) for a player the coaching staff admitted they've "kept an eye on since his draft year."
To then turn around an expose said player to waivers -- where he would absolutely be claimed -- just to force Glass into the lineup is crazy. To keep Etem but also keep two more spare forwards just to keep Glass in the lineup is almost as crazy.
We've talked a lot about some of the differences between Jeff Gorton and Glen Sather. Sather was always a general manager who wanted a hired gun on his bench. Year after year the Rangers made moves and handed out bad contracts to enforcers who played no real role in helping the team win games. Was Glass a move Alain Vigneault pushed for to have his guy if needed to have an enforcer anyway? It would make sense. Does Gorton's role with the Rangers change the team's overall outlook on the enforcing role in general? We'll see.
That's not to say there won't be ups and downs with Etem. He's a raw prospect who has the tools to succeed but needs to be able to put it together. Hopefully Vigneault realizes that and doesn't give him the J.T. Miller treatment as we trudge through the season. Remember, Etem might make mistakes as he gets adapted to this new system but he really can be a special player. Miller was always a more polished prospect -- that's what drew the Rangers to him -- who blossomed offensively. Etem's offensive ceiling might be higher than Miller's but it might take him longer to get there. It doesn't matter. You ride out the waves with him because you made the investment. Gorton and Co. knew what they were getting into when they made the move to get him. They wanted him. They have him. They're not going to throw him away for nothing.
So Glass becomes a casualty. So be it. It should have happened last year, too, but the past can't be changed today so there's no point in harping on it.
Look, I get that Glass is a great guy. He's an awesome teammate, a You Can Play activist and someone that everyone loves in the locker room. He's willing to drop the gloves and defend a teammate no matter what, and I'm sure there's not a single time in his life he ever complained about anything in terms of his role on a hockey team.There's something to be said for all of that.
This decision should be tough from a personal standpoint when it comes to Vignealt's respect for him and the team's feelings towards him as a person. From a personnel decision, however, this decision is as easy as they come.