25

Healthy, Motivated Ethan Bear Keen to Make the Edmonton Oilers

A veteran of a combined 314 regular season and playoff games over parts of five seasons with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, Bear has seen more than your average 20-year-old. He might be young, but one thing Bear isn’t short on is experience.

Last year, Bear helped lead a dominant Thunderbirds team to a WHL Championship and a spot in the Memorial Cup. Seattle was beaten summarily by their three eastern foes, but to get there alone was no small feat. Bear spent most of his WHL playoff run and the entire Memorial Cup tournament with a broken index finger. A direct consequence of that injury, Bear was forced to wear a glove that was more akin to the world of boxing than any piece of hockey equipment for weeks of action — this, of course, says nothing of the pain.

“I rehabbed it pretty good and it’s fully healed now,” Bear told Oilers Nation. “I got on the ice a couple of times, and got to work on the hands a little bit — it’s not really going to affect me anymore. It’s kind of past now. There [are] still some things I’d like to fix”.

In the Thunderbirds 17 game playoff run, Bear’s production actually increased with that club, going from 1.04 to 1.52 points per game. It’s almost hard to fathom how much better he could’ve been with a hand in place of the club that covered it for so much of his dominant post-season.

For Bear’s part, he sees the adversity as something that made the experience just that much more satisfying. To get through that adversity, and battle through to a WHL Championship; it’s an experience he’ll cherish for the rest of his career. “It was a very hard trip. I know we had a lot of adversity, through broken hands and illnesses” Bear said. “The way we won the [WHL] just made it more rewarding for us.”

“To win a championship like that with the team so close, it just makes you want to do it again. The feeling of winning just feels so good, so I’m definitely going to remember that and use that to motivate me, so when I’m playing for a different team and you’re making another playoff run you know what you’re playing for”.

That championship run had to be rewarding. Clearly, there just wasn’t anything left by the time the Thunderbirds made it to Windsor for the Memorial Cup. Seattle lost all three of their games, with a goal differential of -15 in that stretch. “[The WHL playoffs] definitely shows what the feeling is like to win, but at the same time, going out in the Memorial Cup shows you what it’s like to lose. So it was a long trek of ups and downs. It was still a positive experience.”

Now Bear has but one goal in mind: making the Oilers out of training camp. “Yeah, that’d be phenomenal” Bear said of making the jump to the NHL. “I still have a lot of work to do, and it’s not easy.”

When we look at Bear’s last season through the pGPS (Prospect Graduation Probabilities System) draft analytics metric, he has a higher chance than most of getting there. About 28% of the players who share a similar statistical and stature based profile to Bear in his last WHL season go on to make it to the NHL. The members of Bear’s cohort go on to produce about 30.6 points per 82 game season. That’s the kind of career outlook one would generally associate with late first-round talent, and even then, I think Bear’s chances are undersold. In this case, I wonder if pGPS undercuts Bear’s chances just by virtue of the fact that most players who produce like he does have already made the jump to professional hockey in some capacity.

Consider the fact that the majority of players who are as productive as Bear go on to build successful NHL careers when we look at his draft-plus-one season. I tend to think that a more accurate representation of Bear’s chances in the long run.

One of the reasons I can be so confident about Bear’s chances is that his impact was felt in every aspect of the game. He’s not just an offensive defenceman. On Saturday’s game in Penticton, the Oilers controlled 17 of the 26 shot attempts at even strength. Bear had five shots on goal in that game, and keyed five breakouts, three of which with full control of the puck. According to www.Prospect-Stats.com, Bear’s Thunderbirds controlled 11% more of the goals at five-on-five with him on the ice than on the bench. Almost every player Bear played with saw a noticeable bump in their five-on-five goals for percentage alongside him.

It’s easy to see, then, why the Oilers aren’t asking Bear to reinvent himself as he makes the transition to professional hockey, whether it’s with the Oilers or their farm team the Bakersfield Condors. All they’re asking for are a couple small tweaks. “[The Oilers] like the way I play,” Bear told Oilers Nation. “I move the puck well; I skate well. The couple of things they want me to work on was just how I move and developing quick foot work. They like the way I skate, they just want me to be able to play with smaller players and quicker guys in the NHL, and they want me to be able to close on them”.

There’s an obvious opening for Bear if he’s ready to make that leap. With Andrej Sekera sidelined by an ACL tear and Mark Fayne already earmarked for the AHL, that leaves the Oilers with only four defencemen cemented in their roles. That leaves two up for grabs, and Bear is aware that this is a unique opportunity for him to make some hay. “They’re still positive,” Bear said of his chances of making the opening night roster. “I’m not trying to get too high on myself or anything. I’m just going to go out there and play my best and do what I do, and it’s as simple as that. You can’t really change much up or adjust the way you play”.

All that’s left is for Bear to go out and prove it against NHL talent. There’s no denying; there might be something left for Bear to learn at the AHL level before he takes on top of the lineup competition. Then again, there’s just as good a chance that’s a redundancy at this stage. Only time will tell.

  • Spydyr

    Start him in the AHL. If he proves to be the best option and some injuries occur call him up. If there are no injuries (this I like) and he plays well all season bring him up for a cup of coffee late in the season. This is not rocket surgery.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Oh my goodness – Bear is a fantastic prospect. There is a very decent chance that he will become an every day NHL player. There is zero chance that he makes the Oilers out of camp and is highly unlikely that he will even get a cup of coffee this year. He is about 13 on the Oilers depth chart. That’s not a knock on Bear, its simply a function of a developing d-man turning pro.

    Hi is a rookie pro this year. A rookie pro d-man. He still has alot of wobble in his game and has alot of work to do without the puck. That is fine. That is what the AHL is for. I can’t imagine him not spending the entire year in the AHL and will likely spend most of next year there as well. Natural progression for d-man.

    I hope he has a very solid year in the AHL – I think he might struggle early with the speed and strenght of the players but should get better as the year goes on.

    Go Ethan!

  • madjam

    There might be one or two positions on defence open for debate . Gryba unlikely to play in all games so his position is tentative . Benning broke thru last season , but he has a lot of others hoping to do as he had and push him hard . Bear , despite any warts , has an offensive acumen we simply could use more of once you get by an emerging Klefbom . We go onto second stage for Bear ( training camp) to see if he can defend well enough at NHL level to compliment his offensive acumen . If team had little to no need for a RW offensive defenceman then his chances of making team or even a cup of team would be minimal .Of the impressive newbies he sticks out the most capable in that regard . However , we know we do and thus both options are open if Bear can seize that opportunity now or into the season . Jones and Mantha not that far behind either , even Paigin shows some promise . All 4 may move to top of Condors defence in short order , and be first calls up for injuries . Not sold the top 4 will be a staple right from start of season , but wouldn’t be surprised if at least two of them get some time during the season. Could one crack the lineup to start ? Yes , if they show well , or any defensive injuries develop in pre season .

    • OriginalPouzar

      Bears had issues defending at the rookie tournament – may I ask what makes you think he will show readiness to defend at the NHL level?

      6- Gryba
      7- Auvitu
      8- Stanton
      9- Simpson
      10 – Fayne
      11 – Lowe
      12- Paigin
      13- Jones
      14- Bear
      15- Mantha
      16 Betker
      17- Lagesson

      • madjam

        I don’t recall Benning looking very good last year at this time either , but continued to improve and crack the lineup . Not much other than the newbies look much like a reliable NHL player in the farm system in the future – a couple of last gap fill ins 6-7 defenceman types for hold overs . It is still to early in preseason to determine if any of the 4 newbies are ready , but I suspect one or two might go to top of list sooner than later as their is not much there to beat out to begin with in my opinion . Their ceiling seems far greater for the four than incumbents on the bubble from farm club . Your list 6-11 shows the weakness of last years depth , and I doubt Oilers will continue to get much better with that group . Auvitu is an unknown quantity for most of us , and most likely to emerge perhaps as quality of other hold overs not overly optimistic/impressive. I like what’s in the system now far better than last year . We had to restock seeing as Davidson , Oesterle and Reinhart have left . Pre season should tell us if Bear and/or Jones is far enough along to grab a spot . Premature to rule out either of them just yet . Paigin and/or Mantha not far behind . Lagesson and Samorukov look like they will contend in next couple of years also .

  • Natejax97

    I find it almost unbelievable that all of these prospects picked 3rd and 5th rounds have passed Mark Fayne in their first professional year. You would think that a veteran D-man would be the first call up to a big club that is trying to win games…yeesh.

  • TKB2677

    Based on what I heard about the young stars tournament and some limited action in the AHL last year for a couple of them, it is nice to see that the Oilers seem to have some legit dman coming.

    They drafted and developed Klefbom who’s at least a good #2 dman already and might be the #1 they want.
    They drafted and are developing Nurse who right now it’s a bit up in the air what he will turn into but today is a good #5 and looks to be poised to be at least a good top 4 guy.
    They signed and are developing Benning who is probably in the same boat as Nurse and there looks to be a good chance he is a top 4 guy.
    The drafted Davidson who they traded but he was a late, late round pick and they were able to develop him into at least an NHLer, probably an OK 6.

    For prospects, they drafted Caleb Jones who based on all the reports is progressing really well and looks to have a shot. His time in the AHL will give an indication how much of a chance he has.
    They drafted Bear, a right handed dman who based on all the reports is progressing really well and looks to have a shot. His time in the AHL will give an indication how much of a chance he has.
    They drafted this Paigan who has played some pro in the KHL, is eager to be in North American and based on all the reports is progressing really well and looks to have a shot. His time in the AHL will give an indication how much of a chance he has.
    They signed Mantha, a hulking right shot who based on all the reports is progressing really well and looks to have a shot. His time in the AHL will give an indication how much of a chance he has.

    Even Dillon Simpson looks like he is right now a borderline NHLer now who might be knocking on the door of being a full time NHLer either as a 6 or 7 real soon.

    It is probably not realistic that all of them to be forever Oilers. I am going to guess that out of the 4 real young guys, not all of them will turn into impact NHLers but if even 2 do, that is damn good and could set up the Oilers for a really long time.

    At the very least, the Oilers should have some legit defensive prospects that other teams may want in the near future that they can trade for help in other areas. Dmen are ALWAYS worth something.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Bear, Jones, Paigin, Mantha – they are all very nice prospects and each of them has a shot at developing in to NHL players. They all require considerable development time.

    • fasteddy

      It’s so difficult to tell with young D. Look at Russell; went from waterbug putting up a zillion points in junior to a shot blocking defensive player. The game is different now, younger, faster, so maybe that gives him a better shot at playing sooner and not having to change his game a lot. Time will tell.

  • OilCan2

    Camp is going to be interesting. D seems to be the place where most of the chances are with Sekera leaving an early space. These September games will sort out some of the question marks. No matter which way the chips fall the Oilers & Condors look to be icing some talented players.

  • vetinari

    Great attitude for a prospect to have but no need to rush him into the NHL. I am pulling for the kid but being a good defenceman at the NHL level is hard, and it is better for his long term development to work out the kinks in the AHL, out of the way of the press and the fans, before he gets regular NHL duty.

  • madjam

    The timeline developmental curve and application to NHL level is different for every player . Some are ready right out of junior while others take different times to make that jump . Once they make that jump they are still going to be on a development curve till they max out usually in 4-5th year . Team deficiencies, needs or best option , often have players rushed before maybe they should be. However , if a good student and fast adapter , often progresses nicely in the development curve better than in a lesser league . Our young 4 are already 20+ and shown some significant progress in play since first drafted and appear to be on upside/positive of development curve . Continued progress should mean they are going to be ready sooner than later . More difficult for defenceman just by the nature of numbers . Defenceman have basically 6-7 vacancies to try to get , while forwards have 12-14 perhaps spots on team to try and win a spot .

    • OriginalPouzar

      Yes, of course, you are right, players develop at different rates and some d-men are ready for the NHL right out of junior, however, aside from the elite prospects, its very rare and many elite D prospects even require AHL time.

      In this case, we have seen Bear over the weekend and, you know what, he was pretty good in game 2 and wasn’t so good in game 1. His play without the puck in game 1 was poor. It was better in game 2.

      Given he had an up and down rookie/prospects tournament, the chances that this particular player is jumping a normal developmental curve and is ready for the National Hockey League are slim to none.

      Sure, he could have a huge jump in his development throughout the year in the AHL but it seems like its going to take some time which is very much to be expected.

      • madjam

        I look at 6th round draft pick M.Benning from last year and his chances of making the jump were next to none . In fact he was down in Bakesrfield to start the year for 2 games . The sample size on our top 4 rookies is to small to say they stand zero % of making club this year . Bet well over 90% of us ever expected Benning to make the jump last year ? To climb above Reinhart , Fayne , Gryba and a lot of others last year was quite a feat , or a combination of a weak farm system for defence that made it possible . We’ll see if any can duplicate what Benning did last year during main camp and exhibition games . All though odds seem against them , the competition they are up against is not great , much like last year . Zero (none) % is unreasonable and overly pessimistic .

        • OriginalPouzar

          We’ve seen Bear play. We’ve seen him in junior and his deficiencies are noted. We’ve seen him in the rookie camp and his deficiencies were on display.

          Yes, before we saw Matt Benning play it seemed unlikely and he jumped the curve. He was also over 2 years older last year than Bear is this year and played against older and stronger players.

          Benning was an unknown. Bear is not an unknown.

          The two are not comparable with respect to expectations.

          No its no unreasonable to say that Bear has all but a zero chance to make the team out of camp – its simply reality.

        • Jack Dupp

          I’m pretty sure Benning was a college free agent signing, (originally drafted in the 6th rnd by the Bruins). He has a few years of development over the young crop of rookie pros. They’ve got some time for these players to develop and should not force them in. Let the players force the teams hand with their play.

  • camdog

    “All that’s left is for Bear to go out and prove it against NHL talent.”

    That’s a Koolaid drinker type of comment, over hyping guys is what lead to the lost decade. Bear has a lot to prove playing hockey against men.

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      You say “All that’s left is for Bear to go out and prove it against NHL talent” is a koolaid drinker type of comment and then you basically say the exact same thing…

      “Bear has a lot to prove playing hockey against men”

      You just reworded it.

    • pkam

      If this is Koolaid drinker type of comment, I wonder what isn’t? What are you going to tell the kid?

      “Don’t border to try to prove to us you’re NHL ready. Just prepare to fly to Bakersfield after the training camp and exhibition game. You have zero chance of making the big club”. Is that right?

    • camdog

      Bear has a lot to learn about playing defense before he’s ready for the NHL, aka AHL. For bloggers or fans to suggest the kid is NHL ready, keep drinking the koolaid. He’s got a lot of work ahead of him before he’s ready for the NHL. The AHL is not “redundancy at this stage” in Bear’s career.