The saga continues for Emerson Etem and the New York Rangers. Acquired in the Carl Hagelin trade, Etem was expected to add youth and skill in a lineup that was in need of a spark.
Things got off to a rough start right away. Alain Vigneault -- ignoring the fact that Etem was on a new team, in a new system and on a different coast -- didn't love Etem's first preseason showing and he ended up barley making the club (but not starting) out of camp. There were even rumors he might be sent down, which I addressed here.
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.
Emphasis mine. There's obviously a lot more positive vibes in that paragraph (which was written September 28th, for what it's worth) than Etem is getting right now.
And since I've already talked about it a few times, the below is something I covered a few days ago about Etem being a healthy scratch for Jayson Megna:
The coaching staff seems to be of the opinion they've given Etem a chance, which I disagree with. Vigneault has given Etem an opportunity the same way you were "given an opportunity" to clean your room as a kid. You looked at the mess, didn't know what to do, threw a few things into the hamper and left it as is. You didn't really try and your mother rolled her eyes and cleaned the rest for you eventually ...
To sit Etem for a Hartford call up essentially means the Rangers have given up on him. And it also means the Rangers didn't do their due diligence last summer when they acquired him and traded away Carl Hagelin for what is now just the 41st overall pick in the 2015 draft. Hagelin had more value than that, and Etem was the centerpiece of the deal when it was made. Granted the move allowed the Rangers to get out of the way of Hagelin's massive extension, but to get so little in return is disappointing. Especially when the Rangers dissolved their own asset for no reason.
During Friday's "what the hell is happening with Etem" thing, it came to light the Rangers have fielded calls on Etem and have discussed trading him.
Etem requires waivers to go to AHL so that's not likely unless it's on conditioning stint. A few teams have been talking to NYR about Etem.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 8, 2016
Talking about trading him now is about the only thing that makes sense about this mess, even though the Rangers have done a good job tanking both his confidence and actual trade value. The fact that the situation got this point, however, is a pretty big indictment on the Rangers ability to evaluate talent.
And I say that for the entire timeline of the situation. Glen Sather was still the general manager when the Rangers made the swap with Anaheim -- although I'd have to assume the organization knew the Sather situation at that time -- so it's tough to say who really wanted Etem internally. Despite the Rangers struggle against the cap, Hagelin had a pretty fair amount of trade value, and the team obviously wanted Etem bad enough that they agreed to take him on despite him being an RFA that needed to be signed and him not being used much in Anaheim.
The Rangers doubled down on this assessment, admitting they "kept their eye on Etem since his draft year." They were high on him at the time. High enough that he was the only NHL piece they got back to replace a critical part of the Rangers core (a part that, sadly, did need to be traded). To insinuate anything else would be a lie, plain and simple. Even if Etem wasn't a Hagelin replacement (he wasn't) he was an NHL piece back they needed to use.
That means the Rangers either didn't do their due diligence when bringing Etem in, or Etem didn't mesh with Vigneault's system or plans. I really can't imagine it's the latter -- although that seems to be how this has been portrayed -- since Etem has legitimately not been given a chance. Megna saw top-six minutes and power play time in his first game. Etem has seen none of that. Why? Why bury him on the fourth line? Who does that help?
Which is also the second half of this timeline: The Rangers never let Etem get comfortable, sat him for long periods of time, forced him into a defensive role with different linemates and then got upset when he didn't generate offensive production. That the Rangers sent Etem down to the AHL just to get playing time -- despite a Chris Kreider injury that should have paved the way for him to get a real shot -- says all you need to know about what the Rangers think of him.
This entire process does not shine a good light on the Rangers, both at the coaching and general manager level. Moving Etem for Nicklas Jensen -- who is basically a less polished Etem -- and a 2017 6th round pick is selling low. Etem is far more NHL ready than Jensen (just 69 points in 122 AHL games) and never got a chance. This is giving up on a guy too early and getting too little back in return. Don't tell me Etem can't make it in this league and don't tell me he's not worth the shot to see if he is. He has the skill and the physical tools, all he needs is the chance. If Vancouver gives it to him I'm willing to bet there will be a lot of unhappy Rangers fans if/when he breaks out.
And if he can't crack it if given that opportunity then at least they gave him a chance and actually tried to get the best out of him.
If you think this is an individual situation you're wrong. Dylan McIlrath continues to rot on the bench despite being an upgrade over at least two of the Rangers six defenseman. That situation is no different outside of injuries forcing Vigneault's hand to get McIlrath more playing time. This is the same thing that happened to Lee Stempniak last year (who, by the way, would be tied for 2nd on the Rangers in scoring this year). And J.T. Miller before him (although Miller thankfully wasn't traded). It's happened to Viktor Stalberg this year, too.
Why some players get a never-ending leash while other are tied tight around the doghouse pole is beyond me. It's a question that has not been asked to Vigneault and it's a subject he's danced around when someone gets too close to actually asking it. Gorton's silence (not unusual for a general manager, I will add) doesn't help us target where these decisions are really coming from. Although Gorton and Vigneault "discussed" bringing up Megna when Kreider was officially ruled to be out, which means they both agreed sitting Etem while healthy was the right thing to do.
When I can make a joke about a potential all star having to fight for playing time with the 12th and 13th forwards on the team and everyone gets the joke (and thinks it could happen) that's a problem.
The disclaimer here is teams mess up individual evaluations all the time. More teams than you can count have given up on a prospect or player they don't think is worth anything and they end up tearing it up (Tyler Seguin, anyone?). But the Rangers have a recent history of not only jerking around valuable players but over-valuing lesser players as well. It's biting the Rangers in the ass as you read this, and it will only get worse if continued to remain unchecked.
Etem was a chance to move away from that.
The Rangers aren't ready yet, it seems.