Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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It’s going to be years before the Edmonton Oilers know what they’re going to get from blueline prospect Ethan Bear, who took his first wobbly steps on NHL ice against the Nashville Predators at Rogers Place Thursday. It was a difficult debut to be sure, but a hockey lesson that will serve him well, a significant step down the road in a career that already has the Ochapowace First Nation beaming with pride.

Bear, 20, who was called up from the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL Tuesday, played 14:42 and ended up going minus-3 alongside Andrej Sekera in a 4-2 loss against the high-powered Predators, the best team in the Western Conference. Thursday was the textbook definition of being thrown into the deep end for the former captain of the Seattle Thunderbirds and the top defenceman in the WHL in 2016-17.

Bear looked confident with the puck, as you’d expect from a kid who had back-to-back seasons of 65 and 70 points in Seattle. That wasn’t the problem. Bear got caught in no-man’s land on the 2-1 goal by Scott Hartnell. Then, he got beat on a 50-50 puck at the Nashville blueline instead of backing off on the 2-2 goal with just 10 seconds to go in the second period. He was also on for the 4-2 goal by Austin Watson. A tough night on the scoresheet.

“It was fun, the nerves were right up there and the excitement level was too and to play a really good team like Nashville was a good experience,” said Bear, who didn’t seem at all overwhelmed before or after his first twirl in The Show. “I just need to keep my feet moving a little bit more, keep moving the puck. I felt pretty good.”

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Mar 1, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Ethan Bear (74) skates during warmup against the Nashville Predators at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

For the most part, coach Todd McLellan liked what he saw from Bear, who had just 34 pro games under his belt with Bakersfield when he got called up. “I thought he looked confident, he moved pucks well, he zipped pucks up,” McLellan said. “The game sheet is not going to give you a true story when it comes to his game. It shows minus-3, but he was a victim of circumstance. I felt better and better about putting him on the ice as the game went on. It’s a good start for him.”

It goes without saying that making it to the NHL, even for one game, is a longshot at best for all the kids out there ankling their way around rinks right across the country. That’s no less true for Indigenous kids like Bear, from the Ochapowace Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Two dozen school kids as well as friends and family made the trip to Rogers Place to see Bear’s debut – he’s one of just six players of Indigenous descent in the NHL now.

“I am very proud,” Bear’s mother, Geraldine, told Marty Klinkenberg of the Globe and Mail. “When I heard, I wanted to yell and scream. All we have ever wanted for him is to be healthy and to achieve his dreams. That is what every parent wants for their kids. It’s very overwhelming.” The entire Globe piece by Klinkenberg is here.

Bear doesn’t even turn 21 until late June, so it makes no sense to rush him along the development curve, as the Oilers have been guilty of doing too often in recent years. What this call-up does is give the Oilers a chance to see where he’s at. More important, it’s going to give Bear a pretty good read on what it’s going to take to stick in the best league on the planet. He’ll be able to go into the off-season with eyes wide open about what it’ll take to step up his game to the point where he not only gets to The Show, but stays.

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That’s not a journey many fifth-round draft picks (Bear was selected 124th overall from Seattle by the Oilers in the 2015 Entry Draft) navigate successfully. There’s a lot of people — those who made the long trip to Edmonton, many more back home and others who got their first glimpse of Bear Thursday — pulling for him.


  • We’re still 10 weeks away from Hockey Helps the Homeless at the Terwilligar Recreation Centre May 11, but the response has been fantastic – no surprise there, given how people and businesses in this city step up when it matters. That includes Oilersnation, and we’ll have more on that later.Our field of men’s and women’s teams – participants play on teams with one or two pros on them — will be larger than last year, likely 20 teams. We’ve already got commitments from former pros Georges Laraque, Robyn Regehr, Matt Kassian, Scott Thornton, Dave Lumley, Chris Joseph and Rob Brown as well as country singer Gord Bamford and David Pelletier, with many more to be announced in coming weeks.If you’d like more information, want to get involved as a sponsor or participant or would like to donate to the cause, you can get more information here.
  • Beginning this month, I’ll be starting a new Top 10 list. This time, it’s Top 10 Players Who Got Away. I’ve compiled my names – made up of players from 1990 and later who were traded or otherwise cut loose by the Oilers and made their marks elsewhere. If you’ve got candidates who make you cringe just thinking about them getting away, let me know.


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  • Odanada

    Welcome to the show Ethan.
    Look, listen and learn.
    Give it everything you’ve got.
    If every player in that room knows you’ve got their back, they’ll respond in kind and you’ll become a team that backs down from no one.
    Best of luck to you

  • Dave Manson

    Pretty great story with this kid… Hope he makes it, and hope everyone has realistic expectations and patience with the dude.
    Top 10 Oilers who got away?
    Hate to say it, but the one that still makes me barf is the handling of Pronger… kind of reminds me of the current state of affairs with asset management

  • Rob...

    Good for Ethan. I’m pulling for him. I also hope he’s being coached mentally to deal with the ups and downs of trying to make it at the NHL level. It can’t be easy being a beacon of hope and pride for so many when you’re still trying to find ultimate success.

  • TKB2677

    I thought he did some good things last night. Being a young guy, he will make his mistakes. It didn’t help that is vet partner in Sekera was a disaster as he has been all year since coming back. I am hopeful for Bear.

  • WHH

    I agree with McLellan’s assesment. I liked the way he handled the puck and his ability to pass the puck out quickly and accurately. We need more of this quick movement out of our end by all our defencemen. I too feel he was a victim of circumstance on several of the goals.

  • Clayton

    Having Bear up in the NHL right now isn’t about him being ready for prime time. In fact last night clearly showed he isn’t. He was tentative, a step behind the play, slow on decision making and confused about defensive assignments at times. Everything you would expect from a kid making his NHL debut on defense. This NHL stint is more about giving him (and management and coaches) a chance to see the gap between where his play is at now and where it needs to be if he is to become a NHL Regular soon. A great checkpoint in his development. Anyone that expected him to come in and rack up the points an shut down the back end and solve the Oilers D problems clearly doesn’t understand fair and reasonable expectations. This kid is 3 years from solving Oilers D problems. (Note: not necessarily 3 years from playing in the NHL but 3 years from being a core piece of the backend).

    • I think that’s what I said.
      “What this call-up does is give the Oilers a chance to see where he’s at. More important, it’s going to give Bear a pretty good read on what it’s going to take to stick in the best league on the planet. He’ll be able to go into the off-season with eyes wide open about what it’ll take to step up his game to the point where he not only gets to The Show, but stays.”

      • Old school

        Everyone is pulling for Ethanbut how about call coach handling him properly as well .. it’s one thing to throw him in the deep end it’s another thing to have him on the ice with 17 seconds left in the period with a chance to win a hockey game .. we learned in peewee the first minute of a game , the last minute of a period and the next shift after a goal is scored are the most intense periods of a game … you could look up the Oilers performances in these categories and l know Todd fails …Todd is notorious for this … this isn’t about the kid it’s about how bad a coach TM is …protect the kid and support your team and give them a chance to win which Todd doesn’t have a clue about

        • fasteddy

          I can’t disagree with this….how can an NHL coaching staff put out a raw rookie in the last minute of a period in a tight game against one of the better teams in the league? I often feel we are too judgemental, but that was just asinine.