When the Anaheim Ducks traded Emerson Etem to the New York Rangers last summer, the young man from Long Beach with the “LB” tattooed behind his ear embraced his new challenge.
But it wasn’t a good fit, and Etem found himself on the move yet again.
He struggled in training camp with the Rangers and was in and out of coach Alain Vigneault’s lineup. Earlier this month the Rangers traded Etem back to the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Conference for forward Nicklas Jensen and a 2017 sixth-round pick.
At just 23, Etem is adjusting to his third NHL team, but coach Willie Desjardins isn’t worried about him quickly getting on track.
“It’s pretty easy because I think when you’ve been traded twice in six months, you know you’d better get your career going and you’d better be real focused,” Desjardins said last week. “I think coming in here, he knows he’s got to have a good stop here and he’s got to make this one last, so he’d better be focused and I think he’s come in with that attitude.”
Etem will play his fifth game with the Canucks on Tuesday against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. It won’t be a celebrated return for a player who dressed for just 19 games and registered three assists for New York, but it’s an opportunity to show his old team what he can do.
Etem realized early on it would be difficult to get a big opportunity with the Rangers.
“They’ve been in the playoffs the past few years, and they got the guys that they stick with,” Etem said. “Sometimes you go in there and you just don’t fit in. I think that’s the case. I felt like I brought speed. But (they had) a couple guys with speed, it was almost like, ‘Where do I kind of fit in?’ And I think they felt the same way. They couldn’t really put me in a position where I really fit in.”
He didn’t fit in like speedy winger Carl Hagelin, whom the Rangers dealt to Anaheim, in part, because his new contract would’ve been difficult to fit under the salary cap. Hagelin scored 17 goals last season but similarly wasn’t a good fit with the Ducks, who traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins over the weekend.
Like Hagelin in the East, the Canucks hope the 6-foot-1, 212-pound Etem’s game translates better in the West. He’s big but also can skate well, and the Canucks can use more speed and youth.
“He’s shown so far that he’s very, very speedy,” captain Henrik Sedin said. “I think for him to get the confidence back and knowing he’s going to play here and get regular shifts. Him and (linemate) Linden Vey have really looked good together. They played with each other before, so they have that chemistry that’s going to help both of them.”
Familiarity should help Etem.
Desjardins coached him in junior with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, and Vey played with him there. He also knew goaltender Ryan Miller from informal summer skates in California and defenseman Luca Sbisa from Anaheim.
“All that kind of makes it easier when you get here, and it definitely translates on the ice, too,” Etem said.
At this point it has to.
Etem was a first-round pick in 2010 and has had high expectations, but now the pressure is on to show why Vancouver should stick with him.
“It’s about coming in here, not waiting to take up the opportunity,” Etem said. “I’ve just got to run with it. This league gets better and better each year, and you only get so many chances to make an impression.”