Kitchener Rangers defenseman Steve Eminger is a candidate to be chosen in the 1st Round of the 2002 NHL Draft. His draft status was confirmed when he was named to the Team Kelly Hrudey squad for the 2002 Home Hardware Top Prospects Festivities being held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on January 30th and 31st. The smooth skating rearguard also narrowly missed out on a berth on Canada’s 2002 WJC squad.
Hockey’s Future had a chance to speak with Eminger prior to Kitchener’s 1/5 game vs. Erie.
HF: How long have you been playing for Kitchener?
SE: This is my third year.
HF: So, you started when you were 15?
HF: This is probably your best year with Kitchener, at least as far as the team goes, right?
SE: Yeah, the first 2 years were below-.500 seasons throughout the whole year, and it’s been kind of a change winning, so far.
HF: What do you think happened to turn things around? Is it the coaching, better players, or just players getting older?
SE: I think it’s a bit of both. I think both years we had a pretty old team, so we couldn’t really say it was an age factor. But, I think we brought in the new coaches, Pete DeBoer and Steve Spott, and I think that was probably the biggest factor. They’ve kind of put down a system, it’s run pretty strictly, and guys follow it. When you have coaches like that, you just kind of play your best for them.
HF: As far as your own game is concerned, obviously you’re more of an offensive defenseman. I think you’re 3rd in scoring for OHL defensemen. Has offense always been your game, or is that something you’ve developed in the last couple of years?
SE: Actually, when I was younger, I was a lot more offensive. But, it seems to be a lot harder to play just an offensive game now, so you have to play defensively, as well. You can’t just be an offensive player the whole time because you’ll get scored on. I always try to focus defensively- I try to take more pride defensively, and when I have my chances, I try to make something happen offensively.
HF: You must see a lot of time on the power play. Do you do penalty killing, as well, or do you specialize at power plays?
SE: No, I do the power play and penalty killing.
HF: So the coaches have a lot of confidence in your defensive play, as well. You’re being touted as a #1 pick in this year’s draft. Is that something you think about much, or do you pretty much just concentrate on your game?
SE: It’s always in the back of your head, but the last couple of months there has been so many things, with the World Juniors, there has just been so many things going on in my head. You just kind of keep on playing, and things happen. You can’t think about the scouts that are at every game, you just play and let the pieces fall in place.
HF: Do any of the NHL scouts talk to you, or are they not allowed to? I don’t know how that works.
SE: I think it probably picks up in the 2nd half of the season. I’ve had a couple interviews, but they were just casual meetings. But I think it picks up.
HF: You mentioned the World Junior tournament- you were a late cut from the (December) camp, and I’m sure that disappointed you. Had you gone, do you think you would have been a difference-maker?
SE: I don’t think one player would make a difference. But, I was disappointed at not making the team, but I thought (Canada) had a good team. It was a pretty tough lineup to crack- I think there were only 2, or maybe 3, spots available for the defense. I thought their defensive corps had a strong tournament, but I think Russia was pretty skilled, at the end. I guess Canada might have slumped the last game, so they might have picked a bad game to slump.
HF: Did you grow up in Kitchener?
SE: No, in Toronto.
HF: So, you must have grown up a Leafs fan, basically? Did you have a favorite player?
SE: No, no favorite player, just a Leaf fan, in general.
HF: Is there any player you try to pattern your game after?
SE: No, not really. I look at different players, like (Nik) Lidstrom, (Chris) Pronger or (Rob) Blake. I try to look at all of them, not just one in particular.
HF: I know a lot of times, when people talk about offensive defensemen, sometimes a player is thought of as being more finesse than physical. You’ve picked up about 60 minutes in penalties this year- do you see yourself as more of a physical player?
SE: I wouldn’t say that I’m a banger or crasher, I just try to finish my checks. Like, when a guy moves the puck, I finish my checks. I’m not going to run around and take guy’s heads off, because it’s going to take me away from my game. But, if I see an open ice hit, I’ll lay the body. Or, if a guy is in front of the net, I’ll clear them out. You have to show some aggressiveness.
HF: Going forward, for Kitchener, how do you keep this great streak you’ve got going? You haven’t lost in 11 games, which is a pretty good stretch. Are you worried that maybe you’re peaking early, or is this something you think the team can carry right into, maybe, the Memorial Cup tournament?
SE: Yeah, I think we had our big slump in November, where we were winless in 10, so I think we’re going to go ahead now. We went through our big slump, and now we’re going to keep on getting better every game. Like, it feels fun; it feels fun coming to the rink right now.
HF: Is there something that clicked into place in the last few games? Are players finally meshing together?
SE: No, I didn’t see any change. We’re winning now- nothing has really happened.