By Adam Brady
It’s tough to find a silver lining in a promising Ducks season that ended with a disappointing seven-game loss to Detroit in the first round, but the play of Emerson Etem in that series would certainly qualify.
The 20-year-old rookie appeared to get better as the season progressed, and that was never more on display than in the Detroit series in which he scored three goals in seven games and had a plus-4 rating. In fact, Ducks fans were asked to vote for Anaheim’s top postseason player in a poll on the team’s website, and Etem won with 40 percent of the vote.
After being sent down to Norfolk of the AHL in the middle of this season, and being recalled in late February, Etem was a mainstay in the Ducks lineup who appeared to get better with each passing day.
It was the kind of ability the Ducks have expected from Etem ever since they selected the Long Beach native with the 29th pick of the 2010 NHL draft.
Earlier this week, having just packed his locker and gone through exit interviews coaches and management, Etem reflected on his rookie season and what’s to come for him.
What are your impressions of the season when you look back on it?
The season didn’t finish how we wanted it to. We obviously wanted to lift that Cup at the end of the two months here. But sometimes you just fall short and you’ve got to regroup in the summer, see what you did wrong individually and as a team, and be better next year. I’m going to look at my game, watch a lot of video. I was pretty happy with the way my season progressed. It started out a little bit slow, but I worked on it, from getting sent down and coming back up. I just continued to work on my shot and a lot of the areas of my game I knew I needed to work on. I finished pretty strong, especially in the playoffs, and I thought I played pretty solid. I’ll just take that into next year.
What did you feel was the most notable thing you improved on as the season progressed?
My confidence. It was not only Bruce’s trust in me with my ice time, but I think as it increased, my confidence got that much better.
Confidence almost sounds like a cliché at times, but it really is huge part of the game, isn’t it?
Yeah, it is. If you’re getting seven or eight minutes a game, you don’t have too many opportunities, especially as far as offense is concerned. You maybe get one or two shots in there. But you feel the flow of the game a lot more when you’re playing and put in different situations. The more I was playing, the more confidence I got. It was great to have the coaches put their trust in my game.
You had a couple of big moments in these playoffs, but what pops into your head as the highlight?
I just think playing in front of the fans, just playing at Honda Center and experiencing that for the first time. Every time I stepped on the ice, the fans got me going. It wasn’t even the goals or anything else. It was just the guys in the locker room, as a team going out on that ice and preparing to battle every game. That was the biggest thing.
The most important thing in your development is your play in all three zones. Did you see that continue to improve this season?
Yeah, for sure. Back in juniors, like a lot of guys on this team, you’re looked at as the No. 1 guy. But I think your role changes when you’re here at this level. I think I’ve carried over the defensive role I had in Medicine Hat. Obviously the offense didn’t come as quickly, but slowly but surely I was able to accomplish some of the stuff I did at that level, and I hope to keep that going.
What was discussed in your season-ending meetings with coaches and management?
Just don’t change anything. What you did in the last series was great, but now it’s time to keep working hard in the summer, don’t stop and make sure you’re prepared for training camp in the summer.
What’s the biggest thing you learned by being at this level for an extended period of time?
The biggest thing is just to stay humble, keep working hard, learn from the veterans in the room – Sheldon Souray, Getzlaf, Perry, Teemu and all those guys. Both on an off the ice, learn what they’re doing, because it’s obviously working. I just need to make sure I follow their path.
With Teemu Selanne’s future uncertain once again, and considering your popularity with fans already, is there any thought in your mind of someday filling the void his retirement would leave for this franchise?
I would want everyone to return no matter what they’re thinking for their future. But you always want to be the go-to guy. You work hard to be popular, just through work ethic or by what you bring every night. If you work hard, the chance of the fans loving you is pretty high. I think everyone loves Teemu here and Getzlaf and guys like that because of what they do for us. If I keep working hard, then maybe I’ll be in those names someday. But I’m nowhere close to being there yet. I’ve just got to keep working hard.
What are your plans for the next few months?
I’m going to be training again with TR Goodman at Pro Camp Sports up in Venice once again. I’ve been training there since I was 13, so that’s not going to change. I might even get a place up in Venice, so I can be more focused up there. My buddy Beau Bennett plays for the Penguins, so we’ll be skating a lot together this summer and working hard. I’m looking forward to it.
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