The Edmonton Oilers and elite young talent have long gone hand in hand.
Having possessed 12 first round picks over the past ten Drafts, including four first overall picks over the past six, the Oilers have had seemingly endless opportunities to make significant, long-term additions to their roster.
However, an over-emphasis on selecting forwards, rather than defense or goaltending, has placed Edmonton in a never-ending tailspin into irrelevance, as the team as now failed to reach the Playoffs in any capacity over the past decade.
As such, one area of major need remains the Oilers blue-line, which, similar to their overall record, has remained amongst the worst in the entire League in recent years. In the 2015-16 season alone, the Oilers dressed an incredible 14 defensemen in hopes of finally shoring up their porous back-end.
It didn’t work.
However, fortunately for the Oilers, there do remain a few bright spots within the Oilers organization. The likes of Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Brandon Davidson have all displayed considerable promise at the NHL level, while the play of others such as Jordan Oesterle and Adam Clendening at multiple levels have given reason for optimism.
One recent draft pick in particular who has also excelled is Caleb Jones, and as a result recently signed an entry-level contract with the Oilers.
Yet, he is not alone, as Ethan Bear, an Oilers draft pick in 2015, has also continued to excel in his development, and could soon make his mark at the NHL level.
Drafted in the fifth round, 124th overall by the Oilers in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Bear has enjoyed a steady progression in terms of both his talent and production throughout his career in the Canadian Hockey League’s Western Hockey League.
A veteran of four seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Bear’s game has progressed well at both ends of the ice, most recently in 2015-16 where Bear recorded new career highs in both goals and points. His 19 goals scored ranked fifth best among all WHL defenders, while his 65 points also ranked fifth, slightly trailing a number of elite defensive prospects such as Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim.
Further, in the 2015-16 WHL Playoffs, Bear had produced at greater than a point per game pace, indicating his clear offensive flair.
At 6′, 200 pounds, Bear is a little under-sized compared to the NHL average, which currently comes in at approximately 6’1″, 203 pounds, yet he more than makes up for this apparent deficiency with an enduring compete level.
A smart, two-way defender who thinks the game before it unfolds, Bear’s game is based heavily around his top skill, which is his ability to move the puck. Whether it be on the power-play, penalty kill, or simply breaking the puck out of his own zone, Bear has the ability to make hard, crisp and accurate passes to his teammates, passes which more often than not lead to high quality scoring chances or deflate the pressure of an opposing fore-check.
In combination with his strong hockey sense and ability to move the puck is Bear’s high quality shot based on a quick release and over-powering velocity. He loves to unleash one-timer’s, especially on the power-play and is becoming increasingly deadly.
On the other hand is Bear’s defensive game, which is characterized by good in-zone awareness and positioning. Although he doesn’t overpower opposing forwards, he positions himself well and provides himself with terrific opportunities to use an active stick to disrupt potential offensive opportunities. Further, great composure allows Bear to calmly move or skate the puck out of his own end under pressure once he has out-battled opposing players.
As a fifth round pick of the Oilers, Bear has already begun to shatter expectations considering his low Draft selection. The Oilers don’t often ice players selected in the second round or later, so if Bear continues to progress at his current pace, he could certainly don an Oilers jersey in the near future.
Given his current skill set and size, Bear projects to be a top-6 defender in the near future, although he will certainly need some time to develop his pro game in Bakersfield.
Whichever the case, the Oilers appear to have a solid prospect in Bear, which is certainly worth noting considering Edmonton’s desperate need for defensive aid.