Edmonton Oilers: Ethan Bear Showing Well in NHL Audition

EDMONTON, AB - MARCH 10: Ethan Bear
EDMONTON, AB - MARCH 10: Ethan Bear /

Edmonton Oilers prospect Ethan Bear has exceeded expectations in his NHL audition.

It was hard to know what to expect from Ethan Bear when he was recalled by the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 27, but the early signs have been positive. After putting up six goals and 16 points in 34 AHL games as a rookie pro with the Bakersfield Condors this year, Bear had earned the chance to play some NHL games down the stretch, especially with an Oilers team that has been out of post-season contention for more than two months.

The former fifth-round pick (124th overall, 2015) has no goals and two assists in eight games and has seen his minutes and usage on the power-play and in overtime steadily increase since making his NHL debut on Mar. 1. Many Oilers fans figured Bear would stick around for a cup of coffee with the big club and then recalled back to Bakersfield. But now it looks like he’s going to be around until the end of the season.

Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers /

Edmonton Oilers

TSN’s Ryan Rishaug was on The Nielson Show on TSN 1260 on Thursday and said he thinks Bear’s strong play down the stretch could help him secure a full-time job in Edmonton next season. “I think [Bear] is giving them something to think about,” Rishaug told host Dustin Nielson. “When he first got here, I think people were thinking ‘let’s see what he can do,’ and maybe not expecting too much. But he seems to be one of those players, Dusty. And we have seen them over the years. I would point to Tyler Pitlick, and I would look to Jujhar Khaira. There are some guys who their game doesn’t translate at the AHL level for some reason.

“You look at their stats and their game in the American league, and they are not really blowing it up down there and banging the door down [for an NHL job], yet they get to the NHL, and for whatever reason, they can just be really effective right away when the indicators do not show that in the American league. And I think Bear is one of those guys. For whatever reason, his game is translating better at the NHL level, and he looks like a regular NHL defenceman right now. So, he’s making the conversation about next year a little bit more interesting.”

Hustle Hard

If there’s one thing that any coach should demand from his players, it’s that they work hard every second they are on the ice. Head Coach Todd McLellan has an exceptional work ethic, and he expects each of his players to match his commitment level on and off the ice. While it’s small sample size at the highest level, Bear appears to share McLellan’s work ethic.

The 20-year-old Regina, Saskatchewan native was entirely responsible for setting up Leon Draisaitl’s goal against the Minnesota Wild on Mar. 10. And it was not because of a great stretch pass from the defensive zone or skating the puck up the ice to set Draisaitl up for a one-timer.

Bear simply backchecked hard and knocked the puck off the attacking forward’s stick to create an odd-man rush the other way, which resulted in a goal. The points will come for Bear, but I believe the Oilers’ coaching staff is more impressed with his hustle.

Is Bear NHL Ready?

Bear has impressed over the past two weeks, but I do not envision him making the trip to Sweden for the Oilers season-opening games in October. While I believe he has firmly established himself as Edmonton’s top defensive prospect, I think Bear should start the 2018-19 season in the minors. We saw what happened this year when the Oilers placed too much faith in unproven players like Anton SlepyshevDrake Caggiula, and Matt Benning — it burned them.

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There is nothing wrong with Bear playing 20 games, or longer in the AHL next season. Maybe he can eventually become the right-shot, offensive defenceman this Oilers team desperately needs? However, it’s unfair to the player to expect him to effective play that role this early.