Why Emerson Etem burns to get back to the playoffs

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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports

Emerson Etem knows he can help the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup
playoffs. 

He’s been there and has an impressive post-season track record to prove
it. The bigger issue right now is can he help the Canucks get into the
playoffs? Without a surge over the final 28 games, Etem and the Canucks will be
on the outside looking in when the run for the Cup begins. And that’s not a
position the 23-year-old winger has been in before during his brief National
Hockey League career.

“I’ve played in the playoffs every
year I’ve been in the league and I’ve had some success,” Etem tells Canucks
Army after a recent practice at Rogers Arena. “The playoffs are a time when I
feel like – for whatever reason – I put less pressure on myself. Attention to
detail and living in every single little moment are strengths of mine. So I’m
excited.”

All told, the Long Beach,
California native has logged 23 playoff games in three trips to the post-season
all with Anaheim – the team that drafted him 29th overall in 2010.
Etem burst onto the scene with three goals and two assists in seven games
against Detroit as a 20-year-old rookie. He got into four games the following
year as the Ducks worked their way past Dallas and into the second round
against Los Angeles. And last spring, he played in and scored in each of the
three series the Ducks were a part of, defeating Winnipeg and Calgary before
falling to Chicago. So he’s felt the squeeze of the playoff pressure cooker and
has found a way to perform in the heat of those battles.

Canucks management has repeatedly
stated one of its primary goals of qualifying for the playoffs each year is to
get young players those same types of experiences that Etem has already had. Bo
Horvat has six games of playoff know-how to draw on after falling to the Flames
last spring. Sven Baertschi got into two of those games to get his feet wet in
the post season and those two games represent twice as much playoff experience
as Linden Vey has. Of course, the raw rookies – Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann and
Ben Hutton – haven’t had a chance to run the playoff gauntlet yet. And even a
player like Chris Tanev, who just turned 26, is a big part of the team’s
foundation moving forward and saw playing time in the 2011 Stanley Cup run has
only suited up for 16 career playoff games.

So Emerson Etem stands alone
among the Canucks youngsters when it comes to first-hand knowledge of the
playoffs. But in order to add to his playoff game log and to keep his streak of
post-season appearances intact, Etem is going to have to do more that he has
done in his first dozen games in a Canuck uniform since being acquired from the
New York Rangers for Nicklas Jensen and a 6th round draft pick on
January 8th.

Primarily on a line with Linden Vey and Alex Burrows, Etem’s speed has
been apparent at times, but his 41.9 percent Corsi For percentages indicates that the Canucks have been buried possession-wise when he’s been on the ice at even strength. Thanks only to an incredibly high on-ice save rate of .976, Etem has managed
to be on the ice for more goals for (5) than against (4). 

To make the playoffs,
the Canucks need every one on their roster — young players included – to find
that next level and that’s where Emerson Etem has plenty of room for
improvement. It took him 10 games to score his first goal as a Canuck –
February 6th against Calgary – and through his first 12 games with
his new team, he has just two points and few memorable moments.

“Now there are no excuses,” he
says. “It’s been (12) games and some would look at that and say: ‘has the new
guy learned the systems?’ It’s definitely settled down now. When I came in
here, I couldn’t wait to show what I had. I know the points haven’t been there,
but I feel like I’m using my speed and creating a positive effect for this
team.”

Canucks head coach Willie
Desjardins is well aware of what Etem is capable of from their time together
with the Medicine Hat Tigers. He also knows there is a transition phase for
young players who’ve been traded – or in Etem’s case traded twice in the span
of seven months. So the coach is willing to be patient with the player, but only
to a point. If this team is going to qualify for the post-season, Desjardins simply
can’t wait for players to find their form.

“As a coach, you know everybody wants things
to happen quickly,” he says of the expectations placed on Etem. “But maybe it
takes a little bit of time to feel comfortable and gel and do what he can. He’s
been good, but you’re still hoping there’s a little bit more.”

Again, this is a player who has
found a way to produce in the playoffs at an early stage of his career. The
Canucks need Emerson Etem to be that playoff performer now to get them where
they want to go.

“He has to keep his hunger,”
Desjardins adds. “To me, it’s when things are going good, does he keep his
hunger then? I think it’s easy to have hunger when things aren’t going so good
because you know you have to turn it around. I see him in the gym a lot. I see
him doing a lot of the little things off the ice that indicate he’s pretty
focussed to get things going the right way.”

The Canucks made the deal to
acquire Etem because they identified him as the kind of player who could help
them get younger, faster and stronger. And he hasn’t disappointed. But he hasn’t
stood out either. In that sense, he’s fit in with a cast of Canucks forwards
who, for the most part, have left fans wanting more all season. 

There is
still time and there is still hope that Etem will elevate his game with an eye
to playing playoff hockey this spring.

Remember, to this point in his
career, this is a player that has only known seasons that extend beyond the
regular season. And it’s Emerson Etem’s every intention to keep that streak
alive.

“It’s time now that us as a team
– but really us a line – need to put together good games,” he says. “We need to
pot some goals in addition to drawing penalties and using our speed. We’ve been
moving our feet, but it usually isn’t until the middle of games. We can’t wait
to get something going.”

In the past Etem has demonstrated the ability
to rise to the occasion. The Canucks need him to do it now so that he’ll have the chance to put his playoff pedigree to use again
this spring.

    • pheenster

      I think so too. I hope Jeff stays longer than Carol. She disappeared without a trace from CA after less than a handful of articles.

      Not as impressed with Etem as others. I do understand he may need more time to adjust, and he’s not bad, however, we have guys like him in Grenier and Gaunce. Have yet to see his best.

  • Rob Robertson

    Most players play and compete for a shot at the post season. It is only Tank Nation GM wannabes that cannot grasp or accept this reality.

    Having management that were professionals that share the same mindset fosters a competitive drive to succeed.

    • Vanoxy

      With all due respect Max, as a member of Tank Nation, I know that the players certainly want to win, and that the current management team also want to win every night.

      Honestly, if any member of the aforementioned groups didn’t feel that way, I would want them run out of town.

      But, there comes a time, at least when it comes to Benning and co, that they need to balance expectations for this year, with sensible asset management long term, and make moves that will make sense in 3-5 years.

      I believe Linden/Benning will make the right calls in a couple of weeks, regarding pending UFA’s and will make moves that add assets to the club, without sacrificing anything long term.

      Frankly, there are a couple of guys on the roster who could be moved, and replaced via call-up from Utica without disrupting the playoff chase this season, while adding future assets. We haven’t been in a position to say that in several years.

      Even though I’d favour a tank job, I can get behind a late season push, as long as future assets aren’t left on the table as a result. I think the powers that be a re onboard with this line of thinking.

  • pheenster

    WELCOME ABOARD JEFF! Gonna be great to see more from you here at CA.

    I’d say Etem and the rest of the guys are going to need to play with playoff urgency and a willingness to go to the net with reckless abandon for the remainder of the season to find their way into the playoffs at all. Our team as constructed has so many gaps in terms of pure skill driving offensive production that we will need to get the most out of every guy from an effort perspective to compete with the more skilled and/or defensively sound teams we are going to battle with along the way.

    This would be reason #1 that I could see Benning bite the bullet and move Vrbata ASAP as Vrby has seemingly become incapable of stringing together multiple max effort shifts in any given game since before Christmas and even JB has to see he is providing diminishing returns to the club with every game he plays. Last night as a case in point his weak effort on board battles came perilously close to costing the team the tying goal had the play not been ruled offside long previous. Shifts like that one occur on a regular basis with Vrby these days, it has to end, and I suspect a trade is the only way to end it.

  • Rob Robertson

    “Primarily on a line with Linden Vey and Alex Burrows, Etem’s speed has been apparent at times, but his 41.9 percent Corsi For percentages indicates that the Canucks have been buried possession-wise when he’s been on the ice at even strength. Thanks only to an incredibly high on-ice save rate of .976, Etem has managed to be on the ice for more goals for (5) than against (4).”

    So one of the analytically inclined bloggers wrote a paragraph to stick in the middle of Jeff’s article.

    Game, set and match Canucks Army.

  • pheenster

    @Vanoxy

    The only asset worth anything to a playoff contender is Hamhuis,and he is the anchor for a sad Canucks d corps. He also signed here for much less to finish his career at home.If a team wants to overpay it is a possibility.

    Vrbata is not a playoff performer and has had a stinky year,anyways. Forever hopeful a team takes him,but doubtful.

    Prust,Weber and Higgins could have been had for nothing,already.

    Nobody is taking on Burrs contract.I cannot see any team wanting Miller,but he remains a longshot possibility.

    Benning has proven time and again he can source quality assets many different ways. Most GMs are not wired like Benning,in fact,I know of none here before him that lives and breathes sourcing overlooked,disposed of and languishing NHL calibre assets like he has.

    Benning does not desire nor need to weaken and disrupt his team while battling for a chance to enter the post season to acquire assets.

    However,if the Canucks fall out of the race Benning will do whatever he can to improve his club. Benning consistently and competently assesses and sources quality assets while the vast majority of GMs do not have that skillset.

    Those are reasons why Benning will never need to foster a losing identity and culture,AKA Tank Nation mentality.

    • pheenster

      It’s also true that as armchair GMs we can move all the chess pieces around as we wish without acknowledging that things like NTCs and actual player desires for where they want to live and work (or the impression that it might make on future FAs) exist. It might look great that we can bury Higgins in the minors or convince Bieksa and Garrison to move despite no-movement clauses because it’s in our interest and because all of them have been excellent soldiers throughout their time here and not made demands a la Kesler. But if we go into the FA market what premium do we pay in trying to attract players if our commitments to such clauses seem weak? And critics can scream at Benning’s “incompetence” if Vrbata or Hamhuis don’t get moved but a) you need to have suitors, b) they need to be willing to give up assets for rentals, and c) they want to actually move. If I’m Hamhuis or Vrbata do I really want to either uproot my family or be away from them for the next 3 or 4 months before possibly being on the move again in the summer? I wouldn’t blame them if they said no and I certainly wouldn’t be outraged at JB if that happened.

      Back to Etem, I think it’s a bit unfair to criticize him on the production end — he’s been put into a 3rd line energy role and I think he’s looked pretty decent doing it. Maybe this is putting too much on the eye test but he’s been pushing the D back with his speed, hustling to retrieve pucks and has been a little unlucky on more than a few occasions. If he continues to play like this he will get rewarded. Outside of the Kesler trade I think it’s one of the best acquisitions that JB has made, for very little cost.