- Craig Custance
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Cam Fowler was taking pictures with his family on the night he was selected by the Ducks with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2010 draft when he heard whom the Ducks selected with their next pick in the first round.
It was Emerson Etem, a player Fowler knew well from their time together in Ann Arbor, Mich., at the U.S. National Team Development Program, and from playing internationally with USA Hockey.
He was thrilled.
"I knew the Ducks were getting a great player," Fowler said when we chatted before Game 5. "He creates a lot with his speed."
The Ducks are reaping the benefits of that 2010 draft, with Fowler and Etem being major contributors to an Anaheim team one win away from the second round of the playoffs. Fowler and Etem slipped to Anaheim's selections that year, with Fowler expected to be a top-five pick and Etem dropping to the Ducks at No. 29.
It was one of those drafts where a team knew immediately that it made out great.
"We were really happy," said Martin Madden, the Ducks' director of amateur scouting. "We were ecstatic with Cam. We didn't think we'd get him there."
Ducks GM Bob Murray didn't interview Fowler at the combine because Anaheim was picking outside the top 10, a point in the draft when everyone expected Fowler to be long gone.
There are theories as to why Fowler slipped. In Windsor, he played in the playoffs with an injured shoulder, and some scouts started to question his courage going back for pucks and his defensive play one-on-one.
None of that concerned the Ducks, who saw all they needed to see from Fowler at the World Junior Championships, where he was part of the U.S. team that won gold.
Fowler is also a low-key personality, which might have hurt him in the eyes of some scouts looking for more fire from a potential franchise defenseman.
"He didn't get stressed under pressure because he didn't get too excited under pressure either," Madden said. "If you want more fire, you want someone who gets a little more excited at times, then maybe you downgrade him a little bit. I think that even-keeled approach is a big part of [his success]."
As for Etem, he was still a raw prospect in the eyes of many. His game was primarily about speed, which is the first thing people noticed when they went to see him play. He jumped out to a strong start for Medicine Hat and was immediately on everybody's radar during his draft year. He showed he could score, but there were concerns about his playmaking abilities and whether he'd be a physical player in the NHL.
The Ducks had two players they were targeting with their second first-round pick, acquired from the Flyers in the Chris Pronger trade, and considered trading up to make sure they landed at least one of them.
The debate at the Ducks' draft table was between Etem and U.S. NTDP defenseman Justin Faulk.
They went with Etem with hopes that Faulk might slip to their spot in the second round. Eight picks later, Faulk was gone, although the Ducks did just fine grabbing Devante Smith-Pelly with the No. 42 overall pick.
The Ducks knew Etem had to round out his game to become an NHL contributor, but loved what they heard from him during pre-draft interviews.
"His character went into his selection as much as the way he played that year," Madden said. "I think it's played a big part in how much he's improved since then. He's grown so much as a player since we've picked him in every facet of the game. He's always studying the way he's played. He's always working on getting better."
We're seeing it in this first-round playoff series against Detroit. Etem said the NHL game was really fast for him at the beginning of the regular season. At one point, during a game against the Coyotes, Bobby Ryan turned to him on the bench and assured him that things would start to slow down.
About 20 games into his NHL career, that's exactly what happened.
"Instead of just getting to the red line and starting to dump it in and go try to get it, he was starting to make plays through the neutral zone," Ryan said. "He was trying to get to the net. And sometimes it's not about getting there as fast as you can. It's just about being patient when you get there. I think he's done that very well."
Etem finished the regular season with three goals in 38 games, and he has added another during the postseason. It's safe to say that, if the Ducks can advance, he'll top his regular-season goal total in the postseason because in nearly every shift against Detroit he's making plays.
He starts each game on the fourth line with Kyle Palmieri and David Steckel, and coach Bruce Boudreau said his play dictates which line he ends up on. Etem has been a physical presence, using his speed on the forecheck to disrupt the Red Wings.
In Etem and Andrew Cogliano, the Ducks have the two fastest players in this series and maybe the NHL. Ryan hasn't seen anyone with Etem's speed in the league.
"Cogs is a different kind of fast," Ryan said. "When Emmer takes off, he can be four or five strides behind a guy and just push right by, he's so explosive. I haven't seen anybody that quick."
Ryan noticed that incredible speed for the first time during a four-on-four pickup game this summer.
"[I'm] sitting on the bench with somebody thinking, 'Was that for real?' It was pretty impressive," Ryan said. "You can't really get a read on him. It's four-on-four; you don't know how it really translates."
It's translating just fine in the playoffs, and Etem is earning Boudreau's trust in the biggest games of the season. He played 9:07 in Anaheim's Game 1 win, and that ice time grew to 18:36 in Game 4. It was the most ice time the 20-year-old received in an NHL game at any point in his young career.
We may just be witnessing the blossoming of the next young Ducks star this spring.
"Just being the young guy ... you have to accept your role," Etem said. "My role is to be the energy guy, and I'm having fun doing that. I'm having fun taking it to their D-man, especially just finishing all my checks. Yeah, I'm having a blast out there."