As the Edmonton Oilers likely head toward an early offseason, they have chosen to showcase some of their prospects and give them the opportunity to play and prove their worth at the NHL level. So far, Ethan Bear has taken this chance and run with it.
In his short time with the team so far, Bear has played and impressed to the point where he could seriously compete for a roster spot heading into next season.
Selected in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Bear was somewhat of a sleeper pick, who hadn’t garnered a lot of attention but was still a solid performer who showed a lot of potential and room for growth. In his pre-draft year, Bear registered 13 goals and 25 points in 69 games for the Seattle Thunderbirds.
After being drafted as a prospective puck-moving, right-handed defender, Bear immediately made himself more prominent through the 2015-16 campaign, putting up 19 goals and 65 points in 69 games. He went on to help the Thunderbirds reach the WHL championship, scoring eight goals and 22 points in 18 games in an impressive postseason.
His performance earned him an entry-level contract from Edmonton in the 2016 offseason, and the following year, he continued to show his growth with a 70-point campaign, and he led Seattle to a WHL championship title with 26 points through their 2018 playoff run.
Coming into this season, the 20-year-old made the jump to the AHL, and despite making the jump to a higher, tougher level, he has been able to keep up with the pace and still garner the attention of the Oilers’ front office. He has been one of their main factors on the power play this season and despite getting injured early in the season, he has still managed to put up strong numbers and become a vital member of the Condors’ defense corps, registering six goals and 16 points through 34 games.
Bear’s impressive performance and ability to play well beyond his years, as well as his puck-moving acumen and offensive playing style, earned him a call-up from Edmonton on March 1. He hails from Ochapowace First Nation in Saskatchewan, and his call-up makes him one of just six NHL players of Indigenous descent.
Given the Oilers’ lack of success and blue line woes, including injuries and lack of chemistry between defencemen, it made sense for the team to showcase him and give him a chance to prove his worth.
In seven games with Edmonton so far, the 5-foot-11, 209-pound has registered two assists, which have come in the last four games, as well as five hits, nine blocks and five takeaways for three giveaways. As he continues to slot into the lineup, Bear has also seen his playing time significantly increase, as he now averages 18:13 TOI per game; he also played around 21 minutes in the Oilers’ 1-0 loss to Calgary Tuesday. Bear as even seen time on the power play.
“A lot of young players come in early with energy and excitement and perform really well and it tends to fall off,” head coach Todd McLellan told the Edmonton Sun. “[Bear] hasn’t shown signs of that.”
Heading into the offseason, Edmonton will likely continue to give Bear playing time to not only utilize his skills but to also evaluate his competitiveness and ability to play at the NHL level. In the offseason, the Oilers are likely to part ways with pending UFA Yohann Auvitu, which gives Bear the opportunity to come in and compete for a full-time spot on the Edmonton roster. For now, though, he’s a prospect making the most of an opportunity.
(Sammi Silber/The Hockey Writers)