The big 23-year-old has the skill set to be an intriguing pickup, but he never fit in well with the New York Rangers.
“It goes back to training camp really where it didn’t seem to be working and a fit,” Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton told reporters on Friday.
“He didn’t seem to get any traction.”
Traction has certainly been Etem’s issue in his two previous stops at the NHL level. Drafted at the tail-end of the first round by the Anaheim Ducks in 2010, Etem never established himself as an everyday option in Anaheim. He was acquired by the Rangers this summer as part of the Carl Hagelin deal, but ultimately lost his everyday job to the likes of Jayson Megna and Tanner Glass.
The Canucks are betting that Etem has more to give at the NHL level than he’s shown so far. It’s a longshot bet, but a worthwhile one, especially considering the exceedingly modest acquisition cost. In order to induce the Rangers to part with Etem, the Canucks sent Nicklas Jensen and a 2017 sixth-round pick to New York.
Though it’s a seemingly low-impact trade on the surface, Canucks general manager Jim Benning certainly expressed high hopes for Etem during a radio appearance on TSN 1040 in Vancouver on Friday.
“He's a guy that's going to bring us speed and he's got the strength to get to the net,” Benning said.
“He's proven that he can score in the past,” the Canucks executive continued. “So I expect him to be a scorer for us."
Etem is relatively young, so he still has some time to demonstrate that he’s capable of providing goal scoring at the NHL level. He’s at least shown that he can dominate in the AHL, something that Jensen has never managed.
"In Nicklas Jensen's case, a fresh start is going to be healthy for him too,” Benning said. “We've had some players that have maybe passed him by on the depth chart.”
For a variety of reasons, Etem is a much better bet to emerge as a bona fide NHL player than Jensen is. Though Jensen is a year younger than Etem, he’s managed only 69 career points in 166 games in the AHL. Jensen, Vancouver’s first-round pick at the 2011 NHL Draft, is blessed with NHL size and an excellent wrist shot, but his production has been in decline for several seasons now. His low scoring rate and flat-lining AHL production suggest that Jensen is extremely unlikely to develop into an impactful contributor at the NHL level.
It’s a bit of a different story for Etem. While future goal-scoring wingers generally manage to establish themselves at the NHL level by the time they turn 23, that Etem has managed 51 goals and 92 points in 119 AHL games is still auspicious.
Historically speaking, players with Etem’s size, skill and pedigree who score at a rate better than .7 points per game in the American League still have a worthwhile chance of developing into useful middle-six calibre contributors.
The Canucks intend to have Etem report to Vancouver, where he’ll practise on Saturday. It’s unclear whether or not Vancouver’s newest forward will dress for Vancouver’s next game Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the club placed Jannik Hansen on injured reserve to make space for Etem on the active roster.
Whenever Etem gets into the lineup with his third NHL team, what he’ll have to do to stay there is apparent. He’ll need to win puck battles, get to the front of the net, help a toothless Canucks forecheck force mistakes and, ultimately, find a way to score goals at the NHL level.
“With any young player it's consistency,” Benning said of Etem. “It’s making sure he gets (pucks) them out, making sure that, on a game-to-game basis, that he does the little things that he can do well.
“That's using his speed through the neutral zone, getting in on the forechek and disrupting the play and using his speed to take defenseman wide and get pucks to the net."