The NHL Entry Draft, for a lack of a better term, is a crap shoot, even more so for the later rounds when shrewd scouting can be the difference between a wasted pick and finding a blue-chip prospect.
The Edmonton Oilers may have found the latter when they selected defenseman Ethan Bear from the Seattle Thunderbirds 124th overall (5th round) of the 2015 NHL Draft.
Bear isn’t the biggest guy at five feet, 11 inches, but growing up with the Ochapowace First Nations in Whitewood, Saskatchewan he’s developed a physical game that compliments a strong skating ability. All in all the Oilers have a mobile defenseman who has a very strong defensive game.
“Bear is a strong physical defender and has displayed strong shutdown upside this season with Seattle in the WHL and with Team Canada at the U18 World Championships. Does a lot of things well, but mainly plays a strong defensive and physical game. Strong in front of the net and along the boards, doesn’t run around in the defensive zone and has good positioning.
Developing decision-making on the puck although prefers the simple smart plays. Has shown above average hands and puck control with a good shot from the point. Upside is his ability to anticipate and read the defensive zone but able to move the puck with ease and showing improved confidence.” – ISS
Second to only Anaheim Ducks prospect Shea Theodore (2013 1st round, 23rd overall), Bear was the next best offensively productive defenseman on a Thunderbirds team that had a below league average offense. He was the captain of Canada West at the U-17 tournament in 2014, played for Team Canada at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka tournament and has an outside long-shot at making Team Canada for the World Juniors this year.
One thing that is underrated at times is his point shot.
Bear possesses a laser shot and scored 13 goals last season in 69 games for the Thunderbirds. You can’t discount his shooting ability from the back end. As the scouting report reads, he’s known for his defensive game, he’s a strong penalty-kill option but his head coach Steve Konowalchuk wasn’t afraid to use him as a power-play quarterback.
In due time Bear could round out into a decent defense prospect for the Oilers.
As for longer term projects a couple of Dmen caught my eye in a good way, namely William Lagesson & Ethan Bear.
— Bruce McMcCurdy (@BruceMcCurdy) July 4, 2015
Where Does He Fit Long-Term?
There is an obvious log-jam ahead and believe it or not the Oilers actually have a decent quantity of defense prospects, although the quality of them is still up in the air.
— Edmonton Journal (@edmontonjournal) July 4, 2015
Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart are clearly the current building blocks on defense, with the likes of Justin Schultz, Mark Fayne, Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin and Eric Gryba filling the spots until then.
Schultz is a wildcard, offensively gifted but defensively challenged. We don’t know how long he’ll be in Edmonton after all that hype a few years ago.
That means there are two spots remaining in the long term future of the NHL defense for the current crop of prospects.
Bear is still at least three to four seasons away from having a minimal impact on the roster, meaning a lot can happen in that time.
Ethan Bear keeps standing out from the other non-nurse defenders
— Matt Henderson (@Archaeologuy) July 5, 2015
David Musil, Brandon Davidson, Jordan Oesterle, Joey Laleggia, Martin Gernat, Dillon Simpson and Ben Betker are the guys to watch here over the next few seasons.
Musil has his skating deficiencies, Davidson has a ceiling as a third-pairing defender, Oesterle, Laleggia, Simpson and Betker are still developing. Gernat needs a bounce-back year or could likely be traded.
All things said, Bear has a game that is coming together here and along with Simpson, gives the Oilers two solid defense prospects in that group outside Nurse and Reinhart, the current one-two prospects in the system.