It’s early but Emerson Etem is not looking like a good fit for the Rangers

Etem (Bruce Bennett/Getty)

Etem (Bruce Bennett/Getty)

Emerson Etem has played one game that counts for the New York Rangers. In that contest, he lost a puck along the boards to P.K. Subban that led to a folly of defensive coverage issues and the game winner against Henrik Lundqvist.

This entire preseason, Alain Vigneault gave the kid some room to learn the system. Coaches spent extra time in the video room with him and they thought he was starting to pick it up. Per the NY Post, Etem said in September, “My game is skating, using my body and being an energy guy. I take pride in winning those 50-50 puck battles that are so important. I haven’t done that as well I should so far, but I think that’s coming.”

His inability to compete and win those 50/50 pucks is why he didn’t make the opening night roster out of preseason. It’s a bit shocking considering his two biggest assets are size and speed, yet he comes out at the losing end more often then not. So what gives?

We know this much, at the minor league levels the kid dominated. However, in the NHL he just isn’t getting it done. Here are his stats:

Etem stats (via HockeyDB)

Etem stats (via HockeyDB)

Should the Rangers give up on this kid? Absolutely not! Let’s face it, the deck was stacked against him for being the centerpiece of the Carl Hagelin trade. Hags was a fan favorite and was a perfect fit in Alain Vigneault’s system. Hagelin’s ability to play on any line and help control possession with his aggressive puck pursuit was a major luxury. His penalty killing ability is also sorely missed, as is his breakaway speed that got fans at MSG jumping out of their seats. All these components made him standout in AV’s offensive and defensive schemes. Plus, if not for the salary cap, the Rangers would’ve never traded him.

Thus far, Etem just looks flat out lost. We haven’t seen his speed put to use enough in the preseason and in his debut. Losing puck battles regardless of size makes you look small too. So do we question the kid’s drive? As per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen, Etem is eager to get back in there. Here’s an excerpt from his most recent article.

[su_quote cite=”Dan Rosen” url=”http://www.nhl.com/ice/blogpost.htm?id=42031&navid=nhl:topheads”]Etem, though, admitted he expected a difficult transition period after he was traded from the Anaheim Ducks to the Rangers on June 27. It’s not as if he has come to a team that absolutely needs what he can bring — size, speed, shot — right now. He knew it would be a challenge to crack the Rangers’ lineup, and it has been every bit of one. “But when I get that opportunity I’m going to make the most of it,” Etem said. He’s been saying that for a while, maybe too long.[/su_quote]

His last head coach, Bruce Boudreau loved his size and speed but was pretty frustrated with him in Anaheim. Boudreau told ESPN in July that, “[Etem] has a ton of talent, a ton of speed but just couldn’t put it together consistently.” Fast forward to October and it sure looks like he hit the nail on the head.

So the question becomes, is Etem a fit for the Rangers? What he brings to the table physically the answer would seem to be a resounding yes. However, what he has shown mentally and his inability to compete on every shift says no.

If Etem didn’t have to pass through waivers, I assure you he’d be in Hartford right now. The Rangers don’t have that luxury so what should they do? Practicing with the big club is great, but the only way he is going to get better and improve is by playing. So who would you sit when AV said last night, “points in October are as important as points in April”.

Emerson Etem is a talent. Should he be this raw of a talent at age 23? I don’t think so, and that’s why I’m not sure he will ever fit on the Rangers. Still, I want to be wrong because of his ability to score highlight reel goals, which is something you can’t teach.

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnQ0OzoE_Pk”]

The Rangers have a problem on their hands, albeit a good one. They need to figure out if the young talent can play in this lineup everyday going forward. That means he needs more than just the 7 minutes he received against Montreal. That means someone needs to sit on the third line or fourth line. Does Jarret Stoll get the boot? Or maybe Dominic Moore? Do you sit Stalberg and see what he can do on a faster line with better offensively skilled players.

These are the tough questions that need to be answered. It’s the only way we will ever know if Etem is a fit.