VANCOUVER -- Emerson Etem has found a lot of reasons to explain his inconsistency and offensive struggles during four seasons in the NHL, from a lack of ice time to not having the right sticks, but after being traded to the Vancouver Canucks on Friday he took a hard look at himself.
Staring back was a speedy, skilled right wing who didn't always work hard enough.
"Sometimes when things aren't going well, you look for anything else, anything across the map, and since the trade happened I had a look at myself in the mirror," said Etem, who was traded by the New York Rangers for forward prospect Nicklas Jensen and a sixth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
"Sometimes you think, 'Oh, it's my stick.' You find any reason to believe, and really it just comes down to working hard and getting into gritty areas to score. I have been very perimeter these past four years, to be honest. It's something that I try to get better, but I have to get better or else it's consequences for me. I am not trying to think about it right now, but I want to play here a long time, and if I am going to do that it's going to come down to will, winning puck battles and getting to the net."
Vancouver is Etem's third team in his fourth NHL season. Selected 29th in the 2010 NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, he played his first three seasons for them before being traded to the Rangers for forward Carl Hagelin and draft picks this offseason. Etem played 19 games for the Rangers, getting three assists, before being traded again, and the 23-year-old Californian offered an honest assessment of himself after skating with the Canucks for the first time Saturday.
"Third kick at the can here and for sure want to make it my last," he said. "My stats, throughout the four years I have been (in the NHL) kind of replicates not really the type of player I am, but my work ethic. I think my work ethic has dwindled a little bit here and there and that shows with inconsistency."
Etem scored 106 goals in his final two seasons of junior hockey with Medicine Hat, including 61 goals and 107 points in 65 games in 2011-12. He scored 50 goals in 117 American Hockey League games over three seasons, but has 15 goals and 34 points in 131 NHL regular-season games.
"Everyone has had a good junior career at this level," Etem said. "Guys have really passed me in a sense and I need to get back on that level consistently."
He quickly played himself out of the lineup in New York.
"A couple games where I showed some flashes, but that's kind of how it's been throughout my career: flashes here and there that I can play," he said.
Etem played for Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins in his first season with Medicine Hat and with several of his Canucks teammates, including center Linden Vey and prospect Hunter Shinkaruk, who was his linemate. Etem said he knows Canucks forward Derek Dorsett, another Medicine Hat alumnus.
Etem wasn't in the lineup to play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
"It's not going to matter if Willie was my coach back in the day," Etem said. "This is on me to come in here and show I can get in on the forecheck and create a spark."
It was an honest and at times scathing self-assessment, but also perhaps a sign of the character Desjardins mentioned when asked how much input he had in the trade.
"Everybody can see a guy's talent; that won't matter if I coached him because that is five, six years ago, but the one thing you know is their character and how they are off the ice and what kind of a person they are," Desjardins said.
Asked about Etem's scoring in junior not translating in the NHL, Desjardins pointed out Etem's performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: three goals and two assists in seven games his first season, and six goals in 23 games for the Ducks overall.
"We're getting a guy with NHL playoff experience, and a young guy at that," Desjardins said. "It's always a benefit if we can get younger and faster, and he took care of both those things."