Emerson Etem was the face of the Southern California hockey movement when he broke into the NHL six years ago. He was the local boy who made it.
Etem was back to scoring goals on his home turf Sunday, but under much different circumstances. Etem is attempting to get back in the NHL, on a tryout contract with the Kings, and he helped his cause with a hat trick in an intrasquad scrimmage at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.
“Each day, take away a positive from it and just keep rolling,” Etem said. “Today was a good day.”
It’s been a bumpy road for a player known for his speed. Etem’s 2016-17 season was done after knee surgery, and he ended up with the Swiss club Lugano last season. But Etem said his legs are back to the level of when he made his NHL debut with the Ducks.
“I think that in itself [puts me in] a real good mindset,” Etem said. “It’s been a frustrating couple of years, and just to get that feeling of being healthy again is just a plus on what I need to do to succeed out here.”
Etem’s connection to the Kings goes back to when he was 13. He trained with Kings general manager Rob Blake as well as Glen Murray and Sean O’ Donnell, who also work in the organization. Etem, from Long Beach, would take a bus or train to Venice to meet them and get driven back to the train station.
“I think they remembered that,” Etem said. “I’m just grateful that they gave me the opportunity.”
Etem made an impression Sunday when he scored on a penalty shot and pounced on a rebound. He slammed home a pass from Alec Martinez for his third goal.
Kings coach John Stevens has been aware of Etem since Etem was a 61-goal scorer in junior hockey. Stevens has also seen Devin Setoguchi and Brooks Laich secure jobs on tryout contracts with the Kings.
“You want guys to come in make an impression and he made a very good impression today,” Stevens said.
Familiarity abounds because Etem also knows Nate Thompson, a former Ducks teammate and linemate who has centered Etem in camp. Goalie Jack Campbell was teammates with Etem for the U.S. National Development team.
“I think he and I are kind of similar guys with our careers,” Campbell said. “We’re still working to get where we want to be. But he’s a great team guy. He works really hard. I’m pulling for him.”
It’s only three days into camp but Stevens referenced Jaret Anderson-Dolan as a standout. The 19-year-old, a second-round draft pick last year, is known for his focus and work ethic that has impressed coaches.
“I just think that kid is driven,” Ontario Reign coach Mike Stothers said. “His intensity level is off the charts. I think because of that determination, I think he’s made him the player he is now. I really think he’s going to be a King before long.”
Stothers coached Anderson-Dolan for five games at the end of last season. Anderson-Dolan said that helped him get a taste of the professional game. Then there were moments like Sunday when he was paired with Ilya Kovalchuk in three-on-three play.
“It was a lot of fun,” Anderson-Dolan said. “I remember watching him when I was young on TV, so being out there with him is pretty special.”