WHL: Where does Emerson Etem’s season stack up?

Cam Charron

Back in November, Neate Sager wrote a post here at Buzzing the Net that explored the early season scoring tear of Medicine Hat's Emerson Etem, the Anaheim Ducks prospect selected 29th overall in the 2010 NHL draft.

In the post, Sager wrote:

The speedy wing has a shot, provided he stays healthy and teams don't start shadowing him, at being the WHL's first 60-goal scorer in 11 seasons. (Nationally, John Tavares was the last 70-goal man when he put in 72 for the 2006-07 Oshawa Generals.) He could also rival the '50-in-less-than-60' feat of current Edmonton Oilers right wing Jordan Eberle, who scored 50 goals in 57 games for the Regina Pats two seasons ago on his way to being the Canadian Hockey League player of the year.

Looking back, we know that this is true. Not only did Etem score 50 in fewer than 60 games, but he put together the first 50-in-50 campaign the WHL has seen since Layne Ulmer did it in 2001. Ulmer, of course, was an overage in the 2001 campaign (he was born in 1980) so in another context, what Etem has done this year is nothing short of remarkable as a 19-year old.

[Related: watch all of Etem's 51 goals in 50 games]

The other thing we need to consider is that in 2001, there was an average of 7.1 goals a game in the WHL, compared to just 6.7 this season. These sort of things to make a slight difference, for instance, a 50-goal season in 2012 is worth "just" 48 goals in 2001. Etem's feat will never be able to match up against some of the great performances from the 80s simply because there's less scoring to go around: the game is not as wide open, defensive-minded coaching strategies have taken into effect, and goaltending is vastly better now than it ever was.

So in an effort to look at where Etem ranks against some of the best performances, you need to factor in all these things. WHL single-season data only goes back to 1997, unfortunately, but that gives us a wide-enough window to look through some of the best performances in recent memory in the league.

I excluded overage players from the analysis because they're at an advantage, being older, stronger and better, and far less likely to have an NHL career. I adjusted a player's goal totals for 2 things: the number of games he played (instead of looking at "goals per game" I decided to look at "goals per 72 games" since that puts it in context) and also the amount of goals per game scored in the WHL that year. In 2005, for instance, Eric Fehr's 59-goal season is made more impressive by the fact that 2005 was the lowest season in the years I tracked, bottoming out at just 5.4 goals per game. 50 goals in 2005 is worth 62 goals today.

Year Player Age Team GP G G/72 AdjG/72
2005 Eric Fehr 19 Brandon 71 59 59.8 74.3
1999 Pavel Brendl 17 Calgary 68 73 77.3 74.2
2004 Nigel Dawes 18 Kootenay 56 47 60.4 73.6
2012 Emerson Etem 19 Medicine Hat 51 51 72 72
2000 Pavel Brendl 18 Calgary 61 59 69.6 71.4
2005 Nigel Dawes 19 Kootenay 63 50 57.1 70.9
2004 Jeremy Williams 19 Swift Current 68 52 55.1 67
2010 Jordan Eberle 19 Regina 57 50 63.2 65.2
2006 Dustin Boyd 19 Moose Jaw 64 48 54 62.5
2004 Eric Fehr 18 Brandon 71 50 50.7 61.7
2009 Jamie Benn 19 Kelowna 56 46 59.1 61.2
2012 Ty Rattie 18 Portland 53 44 59.8 59.8
2012 Brendan Gallagher 19 Vancouver 41 34 59.7 59.7
2003 Joffrey Lupul 19 Medicine Hat 50 41 59 59.4
2006 Justin Keller 19 Kelowna 72 51 51 59

(These totals are correct through Wednesday's games)

Not just Etem, but Portland's Ty Rattie and Vancouver's Brendan Gallagher also do quite well in the "goals per 72" measure but their terrific seasons are dwarfed by Etem's accomplishments this season.

I mentioned Eric Fehr above, and it's possible that he had the most dominant goal-scoring season in the 'dub since at least 1997, scoring an impressive amount of goals in a time where goals were scarce. As an 18-year old a season prior after being selected 18th overall by the Washington Capitals, he put up 50 goals in 71 games, or a 61.7 "goals per 72" equivalent.

The other names that appear twice on this list are Pavel Brendl and Nigel Dawes, both of which had terrific junior careers but flamed out at the NHL level. Both were selected by the New York Rangers (Brendl as 4th overall, Dawes at 149th) and never succeeded as NHLers, with just 50 goals between them in their now finished careers. So let these two names be a warning to those who think that Etem's success in Medicine Hat guarantees him a successful run through the major leagues.

Notable names also include Jordan Eberle, Jamie Benn and Joffrey Lupul, three players having very good seasons at the NHL level having made it as regulars. Fehr has had some injury concerns over the last two years so the jury is out on him: he has a single goal in 31 games with Winnipeg this year. Finally, Jeremy Williams will forever be known as the guy who got three goals in his first three NHL games over a span of 681 days.

So, as Neate predicted, Etem has had a historically excellent season, but he'll need a total of 68 goals (17 over his last 13 games) to top Eric Fehr and this chart.

Cam Charron is a hockey blogger at-large who covers the WHL for Buzzing The Net. He can be found on Twitter @camcharron