We’re now at the part of our list where we start to see players who fans can genuinely get excited about for this season. Not in Bakersfield, or on their respective junior teams, but for the Oilers, in 2018-19.
Ethan Bear is one prospect whose development could have a huge impact on the Oilers’ playoff chances in 2018-19. Unlike established young stars, like Draisaitl or McDavid, it’s far from a given than Bear can make much of an impact at all for the Oilers. That being said, he does have the potential to be a difference maker.
To get an idea of how good Bear could be, look no further than his production in major junior and the AHL. After being drafted in the fifth round by the Oilers in 2015 (good draft year for Oilers fans, despite a missed opportunity to draft Bear’s junior teammate Mat Barzal), Bear went on to raise his prospect stock significantly by scoring 183 points in 174 games in his final two seasons of junior, between two WHL regular seasons, two WHL playoff runs, and a memorial cup appearance.
Bear followed up his brilliant junior career by leading all Condors defencemen in scoring (remember, Joey Laleggia played left wing last season), despite playing just 37 games in the AHL last season.
Leading all full-time defencemen on the Condors in scoring is impressive on Bear’s part, due to both his age, and how few games he played. But, he did so by scoring 18 points (same as Dillon Simpson, who had fewer goals, so I’m using Art Ross rules). Half a point per game is very respectable by a 20-year-old in the AHL, but having no 20-point scorers is quite an indictment on the Oilers’ lack of organizational depth when it comes to puck-moving defenders.
The big club did, at least, have four 20-point scorers on the back end, in Nurse (26 points), Benning (21), Klefbom (21), and Russell (21). But none of them even managed to average one third of a point per game last season. In fact, Bear’s 22 points in 55 games across two levels (0.4 pts/g) made him the only defenceman in the Oilers’ organization to average over one third of a point per game, while playing more than five games at the AHL level or higher.
Bear will likely put up a respectable point total wherever he plays next season. But, the reason that place may be Bakersfield, rather than Edmonton, is due Bear’s short stature, and (more importantly) somewhat limited skating ability, that made him a 5th round pick in the first place.
If Bear shows that he’s improved his skating and defending skills enough to warrant a spot on the Oilers’ opening night roster, he’ll likely take a role on a somewhat sheltered third pairing, where his skill and vision could provide a significant advantage for the bottom of the Oilers’ roster over the depth of opposing rosters. It’s also worth giving Bear a long look on the man-advantage, as it’s been his bread and butter at every level. Andrej Sekera’s injury certainly intensifies the Oilers’ need to find another capable powerplay quarterback on the back end. If a healthy Oscar Klefbom can return to his powerplay form from 2016-17, and Bear can carve out his niche, new powerplay coach Manny Viveiros may have the horses he needs to turn around an Oilers powerplay that was absolutely abysmal in 2017-18.
My vague, non-committal prediction for the 2018-19 Oilers is that their playoff hopes hinge on the success of their special teams play. With that in mind, Oilers fan should root for the progression of Ethan Bear. If he is able to take a major step forward, it’s likely that Viveiros will be able to get some significant production out of him on the powerplay. And, if the Oilers’ powerplay can flourish, the team will likely at least contend for a playoff spot. So, let’s hope for a big breakout year from Bear in 2018-19.