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B.C.'s Emery awaits NHL Draft, could go in 1st round thanks to development in U.S.

A dual citizen, the big D-man has worn Team U.S.A. colours over the past 2 hockey seasons
Surrey-raised E.J. Emery has worn Team U.S.A. colours over the past couple of hockey seasons. The NHL Entry Draft-eligible defenseman trains in Michigan.

When Eric "E.J." Emery hears his name called during the NHL Entry Draft starting June 28 in Las Vegas, at the city's amazing new Sphere arena, chances are he'll flash back to memories of first playing hockey in Surrey.

The moment will mark another chapter in Emery's compelling story of a dual-citizen player who has worn U.S.A. colours for two seasons on his emerging path to the professional game, with college plans first at the University of North Dakota.

A six-foot-three, 2006-born defenseman who impressed many with his physical skills at the recent NHL Scouting Combine, Emery projects as an early-second-round pick in Vegas, possibly late in the first round, depending on a team's need for a solid, mobile checker on the back end. He's ranked 39th among North American skaters on

Emery grew up in the Panorama/Sullivan area, played Surrey Minor and academy hockey at Yale and Burnaby Winter Club, then decided to improve his game at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program facility in Plymouth, Michigan.

What a great decision that turned out to be.

"You're not gonna find another place quite like this," Emery raved in a phone call. 

"I think once I saw the place here and met the people who work here, it might have been a little back-and-forth in my mind," he said of his 2022 decision to go stateside. "But finding out what this was all about and how they're gonna be able to change my life and change my skills as a hockey player, and in the gym too, it kind of became a no-brainer."

Surrey-raised E.J. Emery has worn Team U.S.A. colours over the past couple of seasons. The NHL Entry Draft-eligible defenseman currently trains in Michigan. Photo: Rena Laverty / USA Hockey’s NTDP

Son of American father Eric and Canadian mother Claire, Emery lists Compton, CA, as his hometown on the USA Hockey website, and was proud to wear an American jersey when he came "home" for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge tournament in Langley and North Delta in November 2022.

In May, he tallied six assists in seven games at the U18 Men's World Championships in Finland, where the Americans lost to Team Canada in the final, in heartbreaking fashion, after Canada scored several times during a major-penalty powerplay.

"I was super proud of how far we came, and we pretty much dominated that whole game," Emery said. "I thought I played well and defensively well, in a shut-down way. I know a couple of guys over there (on Team Canada) but, you know, it just made me even more excited to get a chance to play them. It was a little hard to sleep the night before, just how excited I was. It's definitely a pretty cool experience to play against guys you grow up playing with, and against."

As a kid, Emery played football with North Delta Longhorns on a team coached by his father, who played pro for BC Lions and other teams. E.J. also played lacrosse for Surrey Rebels, basketball at Burnaby Central and also ran track, but hockey was always his favourite sport, the Canucks his favourite team. 

He remembers his dad telling him that he wasn't allowed to play hockey until he passed skating lessons, Grade 1-ish.

"I wasn't a very good skater back then, so my dad didn't really think I was gonna pass," Emery said. "But you know, every time I went to my skating lessons I would always ask to play hockey. That's kind of when it all started, just trying to get those plastic sticks and hit a couple of pucks around the ice. That was at the Surrey Eagles arena there. I have a couple buddies on that team so I'm cheering them on," he said of the Eagles' recent run to a Fred Page Cup in the BC Hockey League.

Emery says it's encouraging to see more and more players of colour in the NHL.

"Just to see how far the game has come in that aspect, it's awesome," said Emery, who named K'Andre Miller as "a huge player for me that I look at and, you know, try to model my game after," he said of the New York Ranger. "He's someone who's tall, lengthy and has great skating ability, He's always a great person to watch, and he came through this program, went to college. I try to watch what he does, the little things I can learn from."

Hockey scouts and observers see great potential in Emery.

"This is a guy who has so much talent already, he's got tremendous size, he's gaining strength, he's committed to the University of North Dakota," says Chris Peters, FloHockey prospects analyst. "Expect maturation, better decision-making, physical strength, all those things. Once he puts all that together, he is going to be a top-end prospect."

In Vegas this week, Emery will be surrounded by family ready for the big moment.

"There's a whole list of people I'd have to thank after that moment (of being drafted), but it starts with my mom and dad, who've been there since Day 1 – you know, my mom taking me to games and practices and my dad just helping me become an athlete and learn what it takes to become a pro athlete. There are so many things to thank them for in helping me on my path. They'll be sitting there with me." 




Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news for Surrey Now-Leader and Black Press Media
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