The New York Rangers are coming off a Presidents' Trophy and a second consecutive berth in the Eastern Conference final. They still have a future Hall of Famer in net with Henrik Lundqvist and one of the most frustratingly effective defense corps in the NHL.
So it's hard to improve things over the summer, especially when salary cap constraints forced new GM Jeff Gorton to finely hone every contract put in front of him (Derek Stepans don't come cheap, of course).
But the Rangers are still very much in their Stanley Cup window right now. Stepan, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello are all accomplished forwards and they're far from alone. The Blueshirts did lose another future Hall of Famer in Marty St-Louis, however, while the aforementioned cap woes led to the trade of fast and effective left winger Carl Hagelin to Anaheim.
In return, New York received Emerson Etem, a celebrated first round draft pick from 2010 who was lucky enough to be selected by his home state Ducks. Results have been slow at the NHL level for the right winger, though he is still young and perhaps a change of scenery will help. Etem now honors his home town with a Long Beach State University tattoo behind his right ear, so how does he feel about switching coasts?
“I’m just excited for the new opportunity," he said. "It’s New York City; what more can you say? I’m going to miss my family and friends, but I couldn’t be happier to wear the Red, White and Blue.”
Of course, Etem will have to earn the love of the fans on the ice. Hagelin was a really good young player for the Rangers; he just happened to be a lot more expensive than Etem. Both players have intimidating speed and while Etem is bigger, Hagelin has produced much more offense at the NHL level and was an integral part of New York's penalty kill last year, which was one of the best in the league.
Etem acknowledged Hagelin's abilities, but was also confident in himself and how his new bosses see him fitting in.
“A lot of the front office staff have told me that they are building off speed and I feel I can bring a lot of it," he said. "I’m going to do whatever they ask me to do.”
Through four games on the exhibition schedule, Etem has received mixed reviews. Former Ranger-turned-analyst Stephen Valiquette wants more from the 23-year-old, while coach Alain Vigneault has been more positive in his assessment, preaching patience.
Right now, Etem is looking like a bottom-six forward and based on his $850,000 salary, that's perfectly within the margins of reason. He's not going to be Hagelin, but he can be a part of what is already a great collective. And he's not resting on his status as an NHL first-rounder when there is so much left to build on in his NHL career.
“Every year, any player tries to get better," Etem said. "I’m going to work hard and see what happens.”