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Etem can't help California dreamin'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Speedy forward Emerson Etem won't have to travel far to hear his name called during the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images).

(Editor's note: This is one in a series of features about prospects who might possibly be available when the Ottawa Senators make the No. 16 selection of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, set for June 25-26 in Los Angeles. Choices are based on rankings by several services, including NHL Central Scouting).

It's not every day that a young hockey prodigy gets to realize one of his biggest dreams so close to home.

Especially if you're Emerson Etem and home is Long Beach, Calif., not exactly one of the game's traditional hotbeds.

But it is almost a certainty that the 6-0, 190-pound forward, who celebrates his 18th birthday nine days before the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, will get quite the belated gift at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Etem, who spent the past season toiling for the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers, is expected to be picked somewhere in the middle of the first round. That puts him in the range of the Ottawa Senators, who hold the 16th overall selection in the annual lottery.

"Right from when I heard (the draft) was going to be in L.A., I was really happy," said Etem. "I told all my friends and family and they are excited, too ... I can't help but think about it and how special it's going to be, and there's going to be tons of family and friends there. I'm speechless on the subject."

Tigers coach Willie Desjardins is anything but at a loss from words when it comes to a player who made an immediate impact in his first WHL season, leading all rookies with 37 goals in 72 games. Etem, who rated eighth among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's year-end rankings, found the back of the net another seven times in 12 playoff games.

"Emerson is a great skater who opens up the ice real well," said Desjardins, also the head coach for Team Canada at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. "He is a real professional already. Every day, he prepares like a pro. His biggest strength is that he wants to improve as a player. When you tell him something, he is prepared to do it.

"I thought if he had 25 goals this year, 30 goals, he'd have a pretty good year for us. He's certainly passed my expectations."

"Right from when I heard (the draft) was going to be in L.A., I was really happy. I told all my friends and family and they are excited, too ... I can't help but think about it and how special it's going to be, and there's going to be tons of family and friends there. I'm speechless on the subject." - Emerson Etem
In a story that typifies his warm-weather birthplace, Etem started into the game at age three as a roller hockey player at a local YMCA before taking his talents to the ice three years later. At 14, he headed off to Shattuck-St. Mary's, the famed Minnesota prep school which produced current National Hockey League stars Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Zack Parise and Jack Johnson.

Then it was off to Ann Arbor, Mich., a year later for a stint with the U.S. National Team Development Program before heading north to Medicine Hat. Clearly, he's a driven young man, someone who often hit up Desjardins for game film, all in the name of improving his game.

"This kid wants it bad and he'll do anything to get there," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com. "He'll sacrifice anything to get there."

Etem knew the grind of the Western Hockey League would help that cause, especially for a player who isn't big but makes up for it with top-end speed.

"He handles the puck so well at full speed," said E.J. McGuire, the NHL's director of Central Scouting. "His crouch style belies his 6-foot stature. He looks smaller out there on the ice, but he's not small in productiveness."

Added Etem: "I'm definitely a speed guy. I like to utilize my speed in all situations. I think I'm a great transition player ... I also like to just be around the net and bear down on chances that my linemates create. That's where I'm best, trying to put the puck in the back of the net and find places where I can do that."

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