Mon Feb 06 10:30am EST
It seems a typical gameday to-do list for Medicine Hat Tigers star Emerson Etem looks something like this — give the opposing team's coach a migraine, embarrass their defence, make their goaltender shudder when he crosses the blue line, and of course, put the puck in the back of the net.
The 6-foot-1, 197-pound winger is the hottest player in the Western Hockey League as of late, scoring an outstanding 20 goals and 27 points in his last 15 games.
"Hard work has been paying off," says Etem. "It starts in the off-season with working on stops and starts and improving my straight-ahead speed. I just continue to work on my speed and skating and that makes it hard for other teams to stop me."
If it wasn't for missing a handful of games for the world juniors, the Long Beach, Calif., native would likely be leading the Dub in points. Nevertheless, Etem's 48 goals and 85 points in 47 games put him only two points behind league leader Ty Rattie of the Portland Winterhawks. With the Tigers having 18 games left, Etem has more than enough time to clinch the scoring title in a points race that also includes Brandon's Mark Stone and Regina's Jordan Weal, who are tied for second with 86 apiece. Etem will likely face even tighter checking from here on out, but he also has a shot at a 60-goal season, a rarity in the WHL.
"I'm not that worried about being No. 1 in points, but it would obviously be nice to do," says Etem, an Anaheim Ducks first-round choice in 2010. "I'm just going to keep on coming to the rink looking to score every night."
When it comes to consistency, very few if any can match Etem's track record. The 19-year-old has been held pointless in only six games. None of them were in back-to-back occasions.
"It is all about finding a routine that suits you," says Etem. "Over the past three years I've been changing little things in my routine and it makes me better prepared for games."
The penalty kill isn't on the list of most goal scorers' claim to fame, but it is for Etem. When he is on the penalty kill it's hard to tell who has the man advantage. He has made power plays look foolish by picking players pockets and flying past them with his uncanny speed. The Anaheim Ducks first-rounder currently handily leads the Dub in shorthanded goals with 10.
"Obviously the goal of a penalty kill is to not let the other team score, but if you can score yourself, why not," says Etem. "I try and catch players flat footed and grab the puck off them and then I can usually beat them in a foot race."
Teammate Hunter Shinkaruk has helped Etem light the lamp and vice-versa. This scary one-two punch has notched a remarkable 88 goals combined this year. That's roughly 45 percent of their entire team's 196 goals scored.
"Last year I fed off Linden Vey [who won the scoring title] and he fed off me, and this year it has been Shinkaruk," says Etem. "On the power play we make stuff happen and we just make each other better. It's nice to have someone that talented alongside you. He pushes me and I push him."
The Tigers (32-18-2-2) currently sit in third place in the Eastern Conference behind the Edmonton Oil Kings and Moose Jaw Warriors with 68 points. These two powerhouse rivals seem to be clearly favoured over the Tigers to represent the East in the finals. This is partially because of the Tigers' lack of depth upfront. So it seems Etem and Shinkaruk will have to be firing on all cylinders for the Tigers to have any shot of pulling off an upset in the post-season.
"Our best players will have to prove they're our best players," says Etem. "I will have to come up big and other players will have to step up too. We have beaten those teams (Oil Kings and Warriors) before; we know we can beat them again. It doesn't matter what people think or how it looks on paper, we are a very good team. It won't be easy, but we can beat any team in this league."
This is Etem's last season of junior hockey. He will move on to the Ducks organization next year. It's definitely a possibility that he could spend next season with their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, but his elite skill and speed will help him make a strong case at training camp for him to stay with the big club.
"I got cut the last two years and it was disappointing," says Etem. "It makes me want to make the team next year that much more. I think I'm ready for the NHL. It will be their decision, but I'm going to go to camp in great shape and be motivated to make the team."
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen (photo: The Canadian Press).