There may come a time when Emerson Etem is critiqued and lauded just like any other Ducks player by the denizens at Honda Center. He probably can’t wait for the moment.
Two weeks ago the 18-year-old from Long Beach was not received like any other Duck, not even like any other first-round draft pick, at the annual entry draft. His cheering section numbered in the triple digits, larger than anyone else’s, and his booing section at Staples Center (Kings fans, most likely) was still larger. You could say it comes with the territory – a clich that works on a few levels in Etem’s case.
Thursday, he was standing on the bridge between the past and the future.
Specifically, he was standing on the top step of a staircase leading to the stands at Anaheim ICE, signing autographs for fans. New fans – not friends, not family – but clearly a group that was familiar with the name on the back of his jersey from the brief exposure he’s had in his native market.
The transition from “Long Beach native” to “Anaheim Ducks forward” is just beginning this week at the prospects conditioning camp. Though he lives about 20 minutes away, Etem is being sequestered with the other campers at the Doubletree Hotel in Anaheim. No time to play tour guide. Only time to play hockey.
The transition isn’t glamorous.
“The upgrade in speed, the upgrade in skill level, is just something that I’ve never experienced before,” Etem said after Thursday’s intrasquad scrimmage. “I’m getting adjusted to it. I’m taking it all in and learning from it. I’m trying to prepare myself for the main camp.”
It’s clear that Etem knows what to do with a puck. It’s also clear from Thursday’s scrimmage what he needs to work on to reach the NHL.
The two 30-minute halves were far more physical than Tuesday’s – physical enough to almost resemble an actual hockey game – and Etem found himself on the losing end of most hits. The first came at the hands of defenseman Cam Fowler, a fellow 2010 first-round pick who is not known as a physical defenseman but took the puck from Etem with a strong body check.
“I was trying to lay the body as much as possible, and they’re bigger guys, harder to get around – better gap, as far as the D-men,” Etem said. “So I was just trying to get the puck deep, use my speed to get around them, and finish my checks as much as possible.”
The trick for Etem will be to add size to his 6-foot, 190-pound frame without sacrificing too much mobility. That’s a transition that could take longer than a few months.
Hopefully for the Ducks, it will be worth the wait.