We haven’t done this for a while. Longtime followers may remember the format. If not you’ll catch on quickly enough. Interviews or stories are republished with a comment. Comments are in italics.
Earlier this week, having just packed his locker and gone through exit interviews with 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.
For a guy who initially struggled in the ‘A’ EE’s growth was truly exceptional. By the end of the playoffs EE had clearly establish himself among the top 9 forwards. In game six he played 3 more minutes than Teemu Selanne.
What did you feel was the most notable thing you improved on as the season progressed?
My confidence. It was not only the coaches’ trust in me with my ice time, but I think as it increased, my confidence got that much better.
There are genuine hockey reasons for that. Brady could have followed up much better than he does. But then again, he’s a P.R. not a hockey guy.
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.
I feel like that kid in the tv commercial, “We want more. We want more.” Coach saw in EE that he might able to trust him on the PK. He proved coach right. At this point EE was a solid 4th line ES and 2nd unit PK. He really didn’t consistently get more ice time until he started finishing his scoring opportunities in the playoffs. In the first question EE mentioned working on his shot but it wasn’t until the playoffs that he got rewarded for all that previous effort. What gave EE this confidence is how he met and/or exceeded the tests the Coach put on him. He did this by reading and reacting to the plays. He also used his best asset, his deceptive speed and acceleration. EE has the best acceleration I’ve seen since Bobby Orr. I hope he watches some video of Orr and picks up on how and when to use that acceleration.
Note: Bobby Orr had such power that he achieved top speed between his initial push and his next stride. EE isn’t quite there but he isn’t all that far from it.
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.
Typical rookie. Nothing stood out because he was so busy soaking it all in.
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.
It was EE’s accountability that earned him the opportunity to eventually begin showing the offensive ability. The goals began to come when he showed patience with the puck around the net. The skill that gave him that is his breathtaking acceleration. One flows from the other.
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.
No need for concern here. This is one fine young man devoted to developing his skill. The only question now is his upside.
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.
The reason we’re here BackChecking with Emerson Etem. He said, “The biggest thing is just to stay humble…” The rest, “keep working hard, learn from the vets” flows one from the other. Fact is, he just showed the world he’s a fine young man intent on making the most of his ability. We of course get to enjoy the show.
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.
So Brady immediately tests that humility by asking the rookie to compare himself with our legendary face of the franchise. If anything shows Brady is more P.R than hockey it’s comfort with massive egos. And by working hard it’s likely EE moves ahead of Teemu on the depth chart. And yes supplants him on PP. This is partly why I hope Teemu retires now. Seeing kids pass him is just not something I want to witness. It does appear that we can trust EE’s work ethic. He gets that from his good family upbringing. He’s not carrying any baggage such that he’s one guy I think will avoid the sophomore jinx. This is one level-headed dude.
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.
Devante Smith-Pelly would be wise to join him.