The previous three profiles, I have focused on defensemen of various types. Freij, Stolberg, and Badinka all fall on different points on the spectrum of offensive to defensive in terms of their balance of skills and strengths. Freij is definitely the most offensive who has some projection for being at least competent defensively. Badinka is closer to the middle but still more on the offensive side. Finally, Stolberg leans more on the defensive side but, like Badinka, is close to the middle.

What I haven't ever really written about before is a defense prospect who leans very firmly on the purely defensive side of that spectrum. But that's exactly what I am going to do in this profile on EJ Emery.

I specifically wanted to write a profile for a higher pick that fit this type, as part of what I've mentioned earlier – how much value I place on being actually good defensively, as a defenseman, has increased over the past few years. I wanted to challenge myself to find a guy who fit that type and write a profile on them that I came to really like. It was a toss up between Emery and Charlie Elick – but despite watching more of Elick than anyone else this year, I remain baffled about him as a player comparing what I've seen to what I read from scouts. I am unconvinced he is actually that good defensively.

Emery, on the other hand, I came to like very quickly this year and that never really changed.


  • Position: Right-Shot Defenseman
  • League(s): USHL / US National Development Program (USNTDP)
  • Height: 6'3"
  • Weight: 185 lbs
  • Birthdate: March 30th, 2006

Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:

  • Bob McKenzie: 39th
  • Will Scouch: 66th
  • Elite Prospects: 31st
  • Scott Wheeler: 33rd
  • McKeen's Hockey: 33rd
  • Future Considerations: 35th

EJ Emery comes from a family of athletes. His dad is American who played for many years for the BC Lions in the Canadian Football League. He married a Canadian woman and they still live there to this day. Being raised in Canada, Emery actually played in a lot of sports – including some football, basketball, and track sports – as he grew up. But he settled on hockey, likely because he has always been a pretty high profile prospect. When he was 15, he was already 6'3" and one of the top point producing defensemen in the leagues he played in and with a reputation for being defensively sound.

Because Emery had American ties to his father, he was recruited by the US National Team Development Program. He also had hype as a top defensive prospect for the WHL draft, but when he made it clear he was going to pursue his chance of making the NTDP, he was only drafted in the third round. He did wind up making the team, and has played in the program the past two years.

Last year, Emery got rave reviews for his defense and seemed to have some burgeoning offensive skill. He had 24 points in 109 total games for the program that year. That may not seem like a lot, but he was not someone getting any power-play time. He was being used mostly in a shutdown, penalty-killing role. So getting any offense at all showed he was developing at least some ability to move the puck and support the offense.

This year was more of the same. He was still used in the same kind of role and his coaches praised his defense more and more. He was compared a lot to another former NTDP player, K'Andre Miller, as a tall and lean defensive-defensemen. Miller, however, a better point producer at the same levels.

At the NHL draft combine, Emery rated out as one of the most purely athletic players among all the draft prospects. He tied for the lowest body fat percentage (3.64%), he apparently set a record for the vertical jump (27.23, almost three inches higher than second) and the horizontal jump (123), and placed in the top 10 in a few other categories related to agility, jumping, pullups, etc. What that should tell you is that is incredibly naturally athletic, especially when it comes to fast, explosive movements. That matters a lot more for someone like Emery, who already has a high level of hockey sense for things like defense. Combining that with a huge wingspan and explosive athleticism, and its a good recipe for a top defender.

So let's talk about what makes Emery an exciting prospect, in spite of the lowly point production.

From Mitch Brown's North America tracking project:


We'll start with what will carry Emery to the NHL: his defense. Simply put, Emery has emerged as one of the top defensive-defensemen in this year's draft, in about any way you can imagine. He can defend against transitions very well, and he can defend in his own zone against established possessions and cycles.

First, Emery has all the physical tools that make for a great shutdown defender. He has size and reach, he can skate well, and he's finally been packing on muscle – when he was drafted to the WHL already listed as 6'3", he was only around 150 lbs. This year, he is up to 185 lbs. So he still has plenty of room to fill out his frame with muscle.

That will help a lot with his defense, both in terms of allowing him to be more physical, but also more explosive with his skating. He's already very effective against his peers defending against the rush.

From Scott Wheeler at The Athletic:

Emery is a plus-level skater with athletic genes (he's the son of former CFL linebacker Eric Emery) and a projectable makeup given his size, handedness and two-way quality. His offense isn’t natural but he has taken enough steps in the way he sees the ice and moves pucks to complement his other two-way pro qualities. Emery is capable of owning his ice defensively... and he defends and skates well enough to project as an effective five-on-five defender and potential penalty killer.

Stylistically, Emery is not the same kind of bruising, physical body checker like Stian Solberg. That's not to say he is not physical, more that he uses physicality in a different way. It isn't as flashy as a big hit against the boards, but he absolutely will use his physical tools to neutralize an opponent.

Emery is more of an intelligent, positional and cerebral defender – making the right reads, being in the right spot on the ice, and cutting off the options for his man and then suffocating them with his size and reach. Adding more muscle so he can physically overpower opponents more easily will only improve this area of his game.

From Joey Padmanabhan at Elite Prospects:

EJ Emery might be one-dimensional, but it’s a pretty important dimension and he’s damn good at it. One of the best rush defenders in his class, Emery combines a long reach with a big frame and quick feet to maintain tight gaps, funnel opponents wide, and kill rushes early by creating seals along the wall.

As far as his offensive game, Emery has a simple but effective game that can help support the offense. He can move the puck well with a simple pass or carry the puck with his skating, but he's not going to weave through defenders to carry it into the offensive zone on his own, especially if he is pressured a lot. He can keep the puck moving in the offensive zone without being a major risk of turning it over, but won't break defenses down and rip it from the point with a big shot.

Most importantly to me, is that Emery's level of offense allows him to quickly transition from defense to offense. So when he creates a turnover or steals the puck to stop the other team, he can get possession and carry it/pass it quickly so his team can start the counter attack instead of giving it back up again. Leafs fans, especially this year, will love to know that. So the potential for Emery as a two-way defender lies in projecting him as a guy who can get you stops, then be able to move the puck well enough to not constantly be on the defensive side of the puck. Which, to me, is still an important "defensive" skill to have.

The offensive potential for him lies with his skating especially, and to a lesser extent his passing. Being able to make stretch passes, passes into dangerous areas of the offensive zone, and things like that will help him create scoring chances and points even if he isn't especially dynamic at it. With his skating, however, learning when to jump into the play will enable him to put himself into odd man rushes, either to finish them off or be part of the passing play. Even just presenting himself as an additional option can help his team score more. His skating is at a high enough level where he can do that without sacrificing much in the way of his defense.

From Samuel Tirpak at FC Hockey:

He plays a really simple, highly-effective passing game with rarely ever making a mistake.... Emery continuously makes simple-yet-effective outlet passes from his own zone and does not make mistakes. Offensively, Emery was really active from the blue line, distributing pucks if he had them or, if not, simply putting pucks to the net.


So let's talk about Emery as a draft pick. If you do not want to take someone like Emery with a first round pick – even a late first rounder – if he offers little to no offense, then how good do you think his offense can be? I've read quite a few scouts talk about his two-way potential, but that's something that's also a debate within the scouting community as a whole. There is no consensus about how well you can project his offensive game, even the little things I mentioned above.

The guy he gets compared to a lot, K'Andre Miller, is an incredibly valuable defenseman in the NHL. But he's also had 43 and 30 point seasons in the NHL. He was almost a point per game right away in the NCAA. He was a relatively low point producer on the US NTDP, but still generated at a higher pace than Emery has.

One thing I've seen some scouts say more recently is that Emery's "promising" offensive development seemed to have stalled this season. They did not see the continual progression they were hoping for. It's not exactly clear whether they mean pointzzz or if they mean showing an improved skill for handling and moving the puck.

Pick whatever defensive-defenseman who had little to no offensive production in the NHL. You can even filter your list to guys you actually liked. Niklas Hjalmarsson, Chris Tanev, John Marino, anyone like that. If you knew that EJ Emery could have the same kind of impact on the ice as them, would you think that's worth a first rounder?

Logic says you should. Late first rounders are not expected to be much better, and if they do you're talking about rare exceptions – that is not the norm. But then you have to ask how likely is Emery to get to that level? His defense now looks very good. It's already at a high level, he has a good combination for physical ability and mentally processing the game defensively. But if his offense can't even reach acceptable levels for the NHL, you're drafting Emery on the assumption or hope that he will become an elite defensive defenseman in the NHL.

What if Emery just becomes a good defensive defenseman in the NHL, with no offense to speak of? Is that enough to make him worth a first round pick? That's the big question for me. Even if I've come around on players of his type, how much do I want to select him outright with Toronto's first round pick?


My answer to that question is – I still would, but I do think he may be the kind of player that would be better if Toronto traded down into the early second round and managed to draft him and get someone else in the later second or third round. In McKenzie's most recent rankings (as of writing this), he had Emery at 39th. So on the borderline as a late first rounder, and I'm not sure his final rankings will be much higher given the general feelings of uncertainty around him to finish this season. He had a pretty solid World U18s from what I've seen, with 6 points in 7 games – much better rate of points than he had most of this season, albeit small sample tournament. But I would guess that he winds up a late first/early second round guy.

For me, there is so much potential with Emery that is very enticing to me. I don't think he'll necessarily be as good as K'Andre Miller but being that type of defenseman is something I see as increasingly valuable. I see Emery as someone who can combine the defensive elements you like from your depth guys – Benoit, Edmundson, McCabe – with the potential to offer something more on the other side of the puck. It doesn't even have to be a lot more.

We all loved TJ Brodie on Toronto before his play fell off this year, and that was when his defense was at a high level and he could still move the puck to some degree. Brodie was not in his prime with Toronto, when he was a regular 30-40 point producer for Calgary and was a true two-way guy. But even the supporting guy who handles all the defense and can just get the puck to the other players to start the offense, that has value enough to be in a top four role. That can be EJ Emery, and that's why I'd like him enough to pick him in the first round even if he may not be my first choice.

Thanks for reading!

I put a lot of work into my prospect articles here, both for the draft and Toronto's prospects. I do it as a fun hobby for me, and I'd probably do it in some capacity even if PPP completely ceased to exist. But if you like reading my work, some support would go a long way! I pay for a few streaming services (CHL, NCAA, USHL, the occasional TSN options for international tournaments that are broadcast) to be able to reliably watch these prospects in good quality streams. I also pay for some prospect-specific resources, such as tracking data and scouting reports from outlets like Elite Prospects, Future Considerations, McKeen's Hockey, The Athletic, and more.

Being able to get paid for this helps me dedicate more time and resources to it, rather than to second/third jobs. And whatever money I make here, a lot of I reinvest back into my prospect work through in those streaming and scouting services. Like I said, I'd be doing whatever I can afford for this anyway, so any financial help I get through this is greatly appreciated!

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