LOS ANGELES — Emerson Etem has gone through the scenario in his mind countless times: Sitting inside Staples Center during Friday's NHL entry draft, and hearing his name announced as a first-round pick.
"Picturing the place erupting in a cheer," said the Long Beach, Calif. native, who expects at least 100 supporters in the stands.
"I worked hard to get where I am right now, and it fell into place at the end of the year," said Etem, the speedy Medicine Hat (WHL) winger who's ranked No. 9 overall entering the draft. "I tried to stay focused on the present. But it hit me at the end of the season that I had worked hard enough to be a top pick at this draft in L.A."
Hearing his name would validate that hard work and the dedication to his craft that took Etem from roller hockey near the beach to the NHL factory of Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Minnesota (a school that produced Sidney Crosby(notes), Jonathan Toews(notes) and Zach Parise(notes)) to Canadian juniors, where he scored 37 goals as a rookie.
It would validate the competitive spirit instilled in him by his mother, a rower at the 1984 Summer Olympics, and his father, who rowed for the Naval Academy; the same spirit that encouraged him to spend four hours on a train during the offseason to train with T.R. Goodman, who managed to keep Chris Chelios(notes) superhuman with his fitness regimen.
It would also validate, as the L.A. Times put it, the determination of an 18-year-old that had to "overcome not only skepticism shown players from non-traditional hockey breeding grounds but racial taunts because his father is white and his mother is African American."
Every bit of biographical and hockey-relevant information listed above is a part of Emerson Etem, and a part of the pitch for Emerson Etem to NHL teams that could make him a first-round, Day 1 selection in the 2010 NHL draft.
For agents and their young clients, success in the draft is determined by how successfully a prospect is packaged and sold to teams seeking to invest in their talents.
Eustace King, managing partner of O2K Management, has seven clients he suspects will be drafted this weekend, including Etem.
Where they'll go is ultimately controlled by general managers and scouts that are making decisions based on months of evaluation, as well as the picks that were made before theirs; but King has been doing his own months of preparation to determine which teams might bite.
The process begins when the players' seasons begin. King attends five to 10 games for his clients, giving him a chance to extract info and gauge interest from the NHL scouts in attendance. "For Emerson, there are some teams I've talked to 10 times. And that's before we got to the critical stages we're at now," he said.
Etem did his own reconnaissance at the NHL Scouting Combine, where he participated in the usual meat-market testing and answered questions like "what famous person would you like to have dinner with?" (Answer: Barack Obama.) He also made the media rounds:
In the one-on-one interviews with NHL personnel, Etem began getting a sense of which teams were interested and which ones were going through the motions.
"You have to keep in mind that they're interviewing 100 other kids. They like a couple kids a lot. If I was one of them, I could kinda tell. Some admired the skills that I bring; others not as much," he said. "You can kind of see. They're highlighting your strengths and stuff."
As the draft approaches, King and his management team begin a PR assault on NHL teams to spotlight those skills: Sending an athlete's profile and information packet, along with a highlight video package.
“We feel it’s out job to do the team’s work for them,” he said.
In an effort to make the process as user-friendly as possible, O2K Management places its video materials for each player on YouTube, which isn't done by every agency. Here's Etem's "reel":
Another distinction King draws between his methods and those of other agents: He encourages unfiltered dialogue between his clients and the teams that might draft them.
"I'm big on that. They don't need to be coached. This is their dream. They just have to go and answer the questions. Just be true to who you are; the ones that like you will surface," he said.
"Some agencies want to manage or manipulate the process. For us, I'm big on karma. At the end of the day, you're going to go where you're supposed to go. And at the end of the day, you're a player. If you play well, it doesn't matter where you go."
So where might Etem actually go? He admits to checking out mock drafts online, seeing TSN ranking him No. 17 and My Mock Draft putting him No. 21 and a few rebellious pundits even placing him in the top 10. "I think I'm a player that can certainly go higher than [mid-first round]. I think I deserve to," he said.
In each case, Etem tries to envision what a specific organization is looking for in a prospect, and whether that organization is one he'd be excited to join.
While Etem ponders his future, his agent is attempting to narrow down his client's options. When Etem's name is announced, it will be at time when King will have four or five teams in mind that could take him.
"I know what teams are, and their needs," said King, recalling the 2008 draft with a previous client.
"For example, in the draft with Tyler Ennis(notes), I knew that Tyler was a small guy. I know what teams are considering a small guy, and I knew it was going to be Edmonton or Buffalo. An outside chance was Carolina, because I felt he was a top 20 pick, and they took [Zach] Boychuck, a similar player. Another team I thought was a good fit was the New Jersey Devils, and they took [Mattias] Tedenby.
"So when Buffalo came up, I said ‘Hey, this is our last real good shot to get drafted in the first round.'"
Some predict Carlson will be one of the most impactful players from the 2008 draft, despite being 17 picks away from primetime. That's why King tells his clients not to fret over draft position during the event and think about the big picture. "The way we frame the draft for our guys is that it's an honor to be drafted," he said.
Now just days before the draft, Etem said there's nothing stomach-churning about it when he pictures his moment at Staples Center "Right now, it's relaxing. Not thinking about it at all. I've done everything I can do at this point," he said.
Once Etem discovers which team has decided to invest in his talents, no matter where in the first round that might be, he said the real work then begins.
"It's not about the mock drafts or even this draft. It's about five years from now, and who the best players are coming out of this draft. That's my goal: To be the best player coming out of this draft in five years."