Ethan Bear may be the perfect fit to lead the Seattle Kraken’s defense next season. Although he has had a tough year, he still should be a top priority for the Kraken come expansion draft time. (from ‘OILERS SNAPSHOTS: Ethan Bear’s game needs polish after terrific rookie season,’ Edmonton Sun, 03/18/2021) The former Seattle Thunderbird could be a crucial piece of the Kraken’s defense corps for years to come if he hears his name called on July 21.
A Change of Scenery Is Needed
After a solid rookie season with the Oilers, Bear has struggled to maintain consistency this season. His Corsi for percentage (CF%) is down from 46.5 to 46.1 and he is not producing offensively with zero goals and five assists through 30 games. The main reason for this was the addition of Tyson Barrie in the offseason. With Oscar Klefbom out for the year, many thought Bear would get more opportunities, but with Barrie added, his ice time has actually decreased.
Last year with injuries piling up on the Oilers blue line, Bear averaged 21:58 through 71 games. This season, however, he has dropped significantly to 17:51. Bear has the ability to play more minutes but just is not being given the chance in Edmonton. He sits fifth in blue line minutes and is often skating on a pair with Caleb Jones. As for the power play, although he is on the first unit, he does not get opportunities as Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl usually stay out for extended shifts to try and take advantage of secondary penalty kill groups. A change of scenario may be exactly what Bear needs to have a bounce-back season next year.
Analytics Still Strong
Despite his statistics dropping this season, Bear is still producing from an advanced stat perspective. He has been given a more defensive role on the team as evident by his zone starts. Last season, he had a 49.0 offensive zone start percentage. This season, that number is 43.1. His plus/minus has improved this year from minus-4 to plus-2 and there has been a drop in his on-ice goals against from 3.3 to 3.1.
Yes, he has been given a smaller role this season with the addition of Barrie, but he is improving defensively. The points will come if he is given more opportunities. Bear is too skilled a defenseman to not produce. If his analytics continue to improve season over season, we could be looking at a Shea Theodore-like situation – giving up on a defenseman too early who turns out to be a key contributor for an expansion team.
Perfect Pickup for Seattle
Edmonton will face some issues when it comes to the expansion draft. They have an abundance of young forwards like Tyler Benson and Jesse Puljujärvi that may be prioritized over Bear. The forward depth accompanied with what some may consider a down season for Bear may make him available for Seattle in the expansion draft.
Bear being available would be perfect for Seattle as it brings back a familiar face to the city. Before being drafted by the Oilers, Bear was a force with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. He won the league’s Defenseman of the Year award in 2017 and finished his career with 192 points in 264 games. Not only is this move a smart hockey move, but allows for an instant fan-favourite before the puck has even been dropped. Fans will remember how Bear led the team to the Memorial Cup tournament back in 2017 and will be excited to see what he can do at the NHL level. Whether it is through the expansion draft or trade, Seattle should try their best to bring Bear back to the Emerald City.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken team. His work can also be found at dubnetwork.ca where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. Adam is excited to be part of the Kraken’s inaugural season and ready to bring you in depth coverage of the NHL’s 32nd team.