Etem Alive in This Postseason
By Adam Brady
There was a moment in the second period of Monday night’s Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena that could have drastically changed the outcome of that game – and the series, for that matter.
With about 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the second period, and the Ducks clinging to a 1-0 lead, 20-year-old rookie Emerson Etem picked up the puck at center ice, sped around Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and flicked a backhand that was just barely denied by the near post. A few inches to the left, and the Ducks take a 2-0 lead in a game where goals were at a premium.
Nevertheless, that play – which lasted all of four seconds – was a rapid-fire glimpse at the potential of Etem, not just in this postseason but for many years to come in Anaheim.
“Obviously, his speed is incredible,” said Teemu Selanne of Etem last Saturday night after Etem’s third period goal helped the Ducks to a 4-0 victory in Game 3. “Everything else is going to come later. When God gives you the biggest tool, and then experience and opportunity is going to help you.”
A year removed from scoring a jaw-dropping 61 goals in 65 games for Medicine Hat of the WHL, the native of Long Beach has seen a more limited role in his rookie season with the Ducks. He scored three goals in 38 games while averaging around 11 1/2 minutes a night, mostly on Anaheim’s fourth line. So far in these playoffs, Etem has earned a slightly increased responsibility.
“He’s earned what he’s playing,” said Ducks head coach Boudreau following the morning skate for Game 5 at Honda Center. “He starts off every night on the fourth line, but as the game goes, if he deserves more, he’s getting more. If somebody’s not playing as well, he jumps up.”
Boudreau added that the improvement Etem has shown in the past year is evident, notably in the way he’s learned to harness that incredible speed.
“It’s something like controlled emotion. He’s not going 100 miles-per-hour all over the place,” Boudreau said. “He’s sort of playing with a little bit of structure in his game. I know in juniors, sometimes you can just go all over the place, and in the American Hockey League you can even be a little bit scrambled. But here, you have to be a little bit structured.”
Two trips back-and-forth to the Ducks’ affiliate in Norfolk this season have clearly helped Etem, according to Boudreau: “The first time he was sent down was because that was part of the reason, to gain experience and everything else. And the second time he came up, he was a much better player, and he’s just continued to grow.
“For a young man, he’s certainly grown by leaps and bounds from a year ago. If he keeps growing, he’ll be somebody the Ducks will be very happy to have for years to come.”
Etem today admitted that he’s slowly but surely getting more comfortable playing at the NHL level. “The games here have about 20,000 people, and lining up against guys like Zetterberg, Datsyuk, some of those guys, takes your breath away at first. But you start to get used to it and not worry about those things as much. The game slows down and you know what to expect each night.”
And it’s not just on the ice where Etem is looking more and more like a regular NHLer. In talking about the Red Wings to a gaggle of reporters today, he clearly showed a firm grasp on his hockey clichés.
“Your hat’s off to the way they’re playing,” Etem said. “They’re doing a great job at a lot of things, but we have to focus on our play. Be the first on the forecheck, getting after their D, creating those turnovers in the offensive zone and getting pucks to the net. We need to shoot more and capitalize on the rebounds.
“As long as we keep playing simple and play a full 60, we should be alright.”
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