California kid Etem could hear named called early
Emerson Etem is used to traveling around North America to find places to play hockey. In June, the NHL is going to come to his backyard.
The 2010 Entry Draft will be at Staples Center in Los Angeles, and Etem, a rookie with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers by way of Long Beach, Calif., should be able to draw a big crowd for the event.
"My family and friends are there, the people who have been supporting me. Even though my friends don't know anything about hockey, it'll be fun to give a little info to them," Etem told NHL.com. "I think it would be really special. Hopefully, my luck continues and it all falls into place in June."
The way things have been going for Etem, he won't need luck to be a high first-round pick. He's got more than enough skill.
"He's a very heady hockey player," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com. "He knows where things are going to happen before they do. … His skating and his puck skills are excellent."
"He's sure to be listed in Central Scouting's first-round recommendations when they come out in January," added E.J. McGuire, Director of Central Scouting. "He's right up there."
He was certainly right up there when Central Scouting released its midterm rankings in January, as Etem was No. 13 among North American skaters, and third among WHL skaters.
Etem is ninth in the WHL and tops among rookies with 32 goals, and his 56 points is fourth among first-year players.
He also had a shorthanded goal at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game last month, further impressing scouts with his skills, speed and smarts.
"He's had a real quick adjustment," Medicine Hat coach Willie Desjardins told NHL.com. "He really wants to be a player. He worked hard in the offseason so he's in great physical shape. He knew a lot about our league coming in. He studied it, he researched it, he knew what he was getting into. He's adjusted real quickly."
Desjardins wasn't sure what he would be getting in Etem. The 5-foot-11 3/4, 190-pound center had played the previous season with the U.S. Under-17 team, where he scored 23 goals and 45 points in 50 games. But jumping from that level of play to the grueling, 72-game WHL schedule, with its exhausting road trips, can be a Grand Canyon-level leap.
"I thought if he had 25 goals this year, 30 goals, he'd have a pretty good year for us," said Desjardins. "He's certainly passed my expectations.
"He's an exceptional skater, got real good speed and he's strong. When he goes down the wall teams have trouble containing him because of his speed."
Etem said that speed has come naturally to him since he started playing roller hockey at age 3 and ice hockey at 6. It also comes from his willingness to put in the work needed to improve himself. For the last three years, Etem has been working out in the offseason with T.R. Goodman, the famed California-based trainer who Chris Chelios has credited for his hockey longevity. Etem works out in a group that includes Chelios, as well as a number of current NHL players.
"I was in their group every morning," Etem said. "A really early group, it would last about two hours. I'd be working out with (Chelios), Mike Commodore, Mike Comrie. It was good for me to see how they work out and how focused they were."
It wasn't an easy ride for Etem to get to Goodman, as it would sometimes take 2 1/2 hours by train each way, but he never missed a session. Desjardins has seen that work ethic first hand in Medicine Hat.
"He'll come in lots of times and ask to watch video," he said. "There aren't many players I've coached that have come in and asked for video and watched it on their own. He'll say, 'Coach, do you have a tape of our last game?' and he'll come in and watch it."
It's all part of Etem's plan to play in the NHL. That's why he left California at age 14 to play at famed prep school Shattuck-St. Mary's in Minnesota. It's why he moved again, to Ann Arbor, Mich., to further his development with the U.S. National Team Development Program. And it's why he opted for Medicine Hat rather than another year in the U.S. program and NCAA hockey.
"I felt that I do want to make it to the next level, and the quickest way possible is playing in the Western league," said Etem. "This organization, I think it's going to help me a lot. It feels like everyone is watching here. It's a lot of pressure but I like to feel that pressure. I set high standards for myself."
And so far, he's living up to them.
"This kid wants it bad and he'll do anything to get there," said Sullivan. "He'll sacrifice anything to get there."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.