The Canucks are struggling to score and no one player embodies this on a personal level to the extent of Emerson Etem. He’s a part of their miserable sum, every bit as culpable as the rest.
Etem, a gifted goal scorer in all but one league he’s played in, has been held off the scoresheet since putting two past the Ottawa Senators on February 25th. You’d like to think that’s a one off, but Etem was goalless in nearly as many days immediately upon joining the Canucks in a January 8th trade with the New York Rangers.
To their credit, the Canucks found Etem for a song. The New York Rangers weren’t so lucky, surrendering Carl Hagelin for the privilege. Such long-winded swings in value carry the players reputation with them and before you know it you’re every bit as polarized as the gamblers throwing their chips.
In all fairness, hockey is a goal scoring contest. It’s hard to reconcile a players effectiveness in contributing to that end if we don’t see the means either by way of goal scoring or suppression. For forwards, it’s much more the former and that’s where Etem is starting to find himself in the crosshairs of fan ire.
In a perfect world, you want the player with a first-round pedigree, acquired for your favourite team’s former first round selection to score goals – and lots of them. That’s easy enough to understand, but soon enough you find yourself so fixated on that end that you lose the forest for the trees.
One group of people that have likely kept this perspective are Etem’s teammates, who are collectively generating shots and shot attempts at a much higher rate with him than without. Etem’s 2.13 SF60 RelTM and 1.85 CF60 RelTm rank highly among Canucks skaters with north of 100-minutes.
The Canucks have also developed into a remarkably efficient team in transition with Etem, who averages the second-highest successful zone entries per 60 among regular skaters with 27.2 per 60. Etem’s averaging 11 shots per 60 on entries, too, suggesting that he’s putting these forays to excellent use with little to show for it.
This begs the question of whether the offence Etem’s house is built on has crumbled beneath him. That would be a fair question if we were talking about a player in their thirties. Etem’s not even 24 yet, though, and that’s the age generally associated with the physical prime of scoring forwards in the NHL.
Occam’s razor suggests it’s more likely Etem is suffering ill luck for transgressions made in hockey life’s past. A cursory glance at Etem’s even-strength data suggests validates as much, as he’s shooting 3.7% at evens – a lower mark than one might expect of a middle-six forward. Similarly, Etem’s low IPP (41%) is 20-points south of what we’d expect from someone at his position.
Of course, it wouldn’t hurt the Canucks to put Etem in a position to succeed, either. Etem is a thoroughbred and they’ve got him playing with glue factory fodder and a mule more often than not. I’ve all the time in the world for Linden Vey. If he’s Etem’s regular running mate, temper expectations accordingly.
At one point or another, the little things don’t matter. A lot of players get there and I’m not ruling out that we won’t have to cross that bridge at some point with Etem. I don’t think a 40-game sample of a 23-year old is that point, though. Etem fits what the Canucks are looking for. He’s fast, shifty and has a good, hard shot. The goals are more likely to come than not. Maybe not this season, but I’ve seen enough to hold out hope for next.