Of all the young defencemen in the Edmonton Oilers system, Ethan Bear has become a forgotten man of sorts. Be it the free-agent signing of Joel Persson, highly-touted prospects Evan Bouchard and Dmitri Samorukov or AHL holdovers Caleb Jones and William Lagesson, the list of blueliners looking to stick with the big club is a lengthy one. A crowded bunch to be sure but the 22-year old seems ready for the challenge.
Though not a complete surprise, the organization had to have been thrilled to see Bear show up to camp in the physical condition he did. After coming to last year’s training camp in less than ideal playing shape and battling injury for much of the first half of his season with the Bakersfield Condors, it looked as if the Regina native may have blown his opportunity to make another impression at the NHL level.
Bear Turning Heads Early in Camp
Despite struggling in his own end of the rink during his brief stint with the Oilers in 2017-18, Bear proved quite capable in two areas this roster desperately lacks. His ability to move the puck up ice and consistently unleash a heavy and accurate shot from the point was hard not to notice. Yes, he needed more time to round out his overall game but it was that skillset that made him such an attractive option.
Hence, the club’s disappointment in having him show up in the condition he did last fall. To his credit, Bear bounced back with a strong finish to his 2017-18 campaign but seemed to have been passed on the depth chart. Fast forward to the present day and the kid has done a complete 180. Not only is he in the best shape of his life but by the sounds of it, he is a step or two quicker than he was.
Obviously, spending nearly all of his summer in town and training with the organization’s Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Chad Drummond served Bear well. Talk to any player who has tried to earn a spot via training camp and to a man they will all tell you that first impression and consistency in performance is what matters most in the end.
Bear Put in Necessary Work Off the Ice
Once you add the player’s handedness into the equation, the benefit of being able to shoot a puck right-handed, and we’re talking about a player who fits Edmonton’s needs to a tee. If Bear can prove to Dave Tippett and his staff that he is a step or two quicker, improved on his positioning, decision making away from the puck and continues to excel at his strengths, it may be next to impossible to not have him on the team.
The Oilers are in an interesting situation. Their backend still isn’t good enough but they have brought back five of their regulars from a season ago. And if everything goes according to plan over the next couple of weeks, they could have as many as four of the five names mentioned above pushing for a spot along the blue line. This could lead to Matt Benning and/or Kris Russell moving down the pecking order but that is a discussion for another day.
In other words, Ethan Bear could not have picked a better time to hit the ground running and prove he belongs in the NHL. He may not be the name fans or those within the organization were expecting to push for playing time but the player clearly recognized the opportunity at hand and appears poised to make a legitmate run at grabbing a spot and not letting go.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.