Two disappointments went a long way in molding Emerson Etem.
The first came when the Anaheim Ducks named their final roster coming out of last year’s training camp, and Etem was one of the last players cut. The second instance came later. Four games into the season Etem was called up and made his NHL debut, but that high was followed by a low, as he was sent back to the team’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk, Vir., after eight games.
But, in hindsight, those two demotions fueled him.
Etem missed five more NHL games while playing with the Norfolk Admirals before he was called up for a second time, and then he stuck. He played in 30 of the Ducks’ final 31 games of the regular season — missing only the season finale against the Phoenix Coyotes — before exploding for three goals and five points in seven playoff games.
“I thought I was playing well in Norfolk but probably not where I needed to be,” Etem said. “It was disappointing … but for sure that next weekend when I went down I put up some numbers and played well defensively, and I’m sure the Ducks were happy with that. I’m sure that played into the decision of calling me up (the second time).”
Etem, a 21-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., played two seasons at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. He was on the Midget AAA team as a freshman in 2006-07 and was on the prep team as a sophomore in 2007-08. He spent his junior season with the U.S. National Team Development Program before joining Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League for three seasons.
His last season with Medicine Hat was in 2011-12, and he started the 2012-13 campaign playing with the Admirals while the NHL teams were locked out. After a new collective bargaining agreement was reached, he was one of a handful of Admirals players invited to the Ducks training camp. He was cut, but soon reappeared and made his NHL debut on Jan. 29 against the San Jose Sharks in San Jose.
Etem, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound winger, said he was more nervous the night before the game, as calls poured in from family members and friends to wish him good luck. The forward logged 7:51 of ice time and put a shot on goal during his first shift, and Etem said that went a long way in cooling his nerves.
“I was able to get a shot and a scoring opportunity and after that I felt a lot more comfortable and in place,” he said.
Etem said the biggest adjustment to the NHL was getting used to the combination of skill and size players had and how they could use their bodies well and work in the gritty areas. He said he had to improve his game preparation – things like getting the right amount of sleep and the proper nutrition – and pregame routine.
“It’s the best league in the world, and for sure everyone is prepared for every game,” he said.
Etem had two assists and a plus-1 rating in eight games before he was sent back down. He returned to the team on Feb. 27 for a home game against Nashville — 15 days after his last game with the Ducks — and had an assist and a plus-1 rating in 12:58 of ice time. Etem, who prides himself in wearing down the opposing team’s defense with energy and physical play, eventually solidified a spot on the fourth line and on the penalty kill. His 43 hits during the regular season ranked 22nd among NHL rookies.
He scored his first career goal on March 18 against the Sharks in Anaheim and also added an assist. Etem ended the regular season with three goals and seven assists and a plus-7 rating in 38 games, helping the Ducks win the Pacific Division (30-12-6, 66 points) and earn a No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Only Chicago (36) and Pittsburgh (36) had most regular season wins than the Ducks, who were upset by seventh-seeded Detroit in seven games in the first round of the postseason.
“That’s the first step,” said Etem about winning the division. “We have a lot of young guys coming up and making an impact, and we got knocked out but hats off to Detroit, they had a phenomenal series. I think the future is bright for us.”
Etem was at his best in the playoffs. He matched his goal total from the regular season with goals in Games 3, 6 and 7, and his five points and plus-4 rating both tied for second on the team. His shot percentage was 25 percent.
With the Ducks trailing 3-1 late in Game 6, Etem scored with 3:28 to play in the third period to make it a one-goal game. Bobby Ryan later tied it up, but Detroit won in overtime to force a deciding Game 7. In Game 7, Etem had a goal and a season-high 24 shifts in the 3-2 loss. He saw 15:46 of ice time, his fourth-highest total of the year.
He credits linemates David Steckel and Kyle Palmieri for much of his playoff success.
“Our line just stepped up,” Etem said. “Steckel and Palmieri, those are two hard workers I played with and they made it easy … We started out with the puck a lot in the offensive zone, and I think that helped out a lot.”
Etem, who recently bought a house in California near his usual training facility, said he likes how his body is progressing and strengthening this summer. He’s also watched a lot of video this offseason.
“I’m studying up on things to work on mentally to come to training camp ready to go,” he said.
This time he’s hoping to stick.
Reach Sports Reporter Josh Berhow at 333-3119, or follow him on Twitter.com @joshberhow