College-bounder defender E.J. Emery could be best mobile shutdown defender in 2024 NHL Draft

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
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In every draft class, there are players with exciting stat lines filled with gaudy offensive numbers. It’s easy to see the value in those players – scoring is massively important when it comes to winning games – and it’s easy to get excited about them as prospects.
But defending is almost as important as scoring, though a little bit less exciting and less easy to pinpoint by stat lines alone. When it comes to high-end defenders, college-bound blueliner E.J. Emery might be one of the best examples of a modern, mobile shutdown defender in the 2024 NHL Draft class.

Scouting report

Eric Emery was a CFL linebacker who played briefly for the B.C. Lions, Calgary Stampeders and Ottawa Roughriders during the 1980s. His son, E.J., was born in Surrey, B.C. in March 2006. He’s a right shot defender listed at 6’3″ and 185 pounds.
As Daily Faceoff’s Steven Ellis noted, E.J. Emery having an American father (and Canadian mother) provided him with some unique options.
Emery’s parents still live in British Columbia, where he was born and raised. But Emery’s dad being American (with EJ’s hometown on the USNTDP website saying Compton, California), allowed him to suit up for one of the top hockey programs in the world. Emery was drafted 65th overall by the Saskatoon Blades, but he had his eyes set on heading to Plymouth if he ended up getting selected by USA Hockey.
After playing high-end hockey in B.C. and a season at the Yale Hockey Academy, Emery headed to join the U.S. National Development Program in 2022. He’s spent two seasons with the U.S. National Team, not really moving the needle massively on the offensive side of the ice, but showing off how well he can defend. He’s also represented the United States at the World Under-17 Challenge and the Under-18 World Championship. He’s headed to the University of North Dakota in the fall.
In February, Dobber Prospects’ Hadi Kalakeche broke down Emery’s game in his scouting report:
Emery’s drop in our rankings from 27th to 43rd is based on two factors: other prospects have elevated their game, and Emery hasn’t as much over the past three months. Since our last rankings, Emery has only logged three points in 11 games, and although offense is not what he is known for, you want to see at least some form of adaptation to get more pucks to dangerous areas, and we just haven’t. A fantastic skater with some of the best rush defending tools in this draft, Emery is still worth a shot as a second-rounder — he’s exploring with offense, though, which bodes well for his future on a second pair. If he can’t figure out what works and what doesn’t, there’s still a role for him as a bottom-pair rush specialist in the NHL.
In his May rankings, Ellis provided a brief rundown of Emery’s game at Daily Faceoff:
The son of former CFL linebacker Eric Emery, EJ has the size and strength to make himself useful in the NHL one day. I thought his performance at the U-18s only helped his stock in a big way – by all accounts, I thought he was the best defenseman. He skates well for a 6-foot-3 defender and does a tremendous job of cutting off angles, even on the bigger ice in international tournaments. The North Dakota commit isn’t too active on the scoresheet, but you can pair him with someone who is and he’ll be the rock that keeps things calm.
Is Emery an offensive dynamo? Nope. Can he skate well and defend well using his size and speed? Yep! Emery doesn’t necessarily project as a player that will solve your team’s offensive woes, but he could be an important part of a team because of what he does well – and you could argue that he could be an excellent complimentary piece for a team that has some offensive-minded guys with some holes in their defensive game.

The numbers

Emery had 16 assists (and zero goals) in 61 games this past season with the U.S. National Development Program’s under-18 team. He also had six assists (and zero goals) in seven games at the Under-18 World Championships, winning silver with Team USA.
His last goal was scored on March 24, 2023 against the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Availability and fit

If you’re the Flames, it’s not hard to imagine Emery playing on the right side of offensive-minded defensive partners like Etienne Morin or Jeremie Poirier. Heck, based on Emery’s mobility, imagine him playing with Oliver Kylington, too. The stylistic fit is really strong – Emery projects as a better skater than the Flames’ more defensive-minded blueliners – but you’d love to see a bit more scoring out of Emery as he develops.
In terms of availability, though, the picture gets a bit fuzzier. On some rankings, Emery’s a first-rounder – Ellis and Craig Button each have him 17th, while McKeen’s has him 20th and FC Hockey has him 24th. On other rankings, he’s an early second-round player. If you average it out, he’s a late first-rounder, and a player that could be around when the Flames select at 28th overall with Vancouver’s first-rounder from the Elias Lindholm trade. But a team ahead of them could also see Emery’s unique value and select him before the Flames have a chance.

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