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The 2020 Copper & Blue Top 25 Under 25: #4 Ethan Bear

Edmonton’s breakout defensive star from last season cracks the top four

Chicago Blackhawks v Edmonton Oilers - Game One Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

It has been a wild few years for Ethan Bear when it comes to his position on this list. The 23-year-old has had his peaks, being placed as high as 8 on 2018’s list, and his valleys, falling to #12 on last year’s edition.

This year, however, proved to be quite the breakout season for Bear. He emerged as one of the team’s top defenders and helped the Oilers fight off an early injury to Adam Larsson at the start of the season. Who knows if Edmonton even sniffs the playoffs without him.

With that in mind, lets take a look at how the Copper & Blue staff ranked him on this year’s list:

Shona Corey Matt Jeff Preston Pouzer
6 5 2 3 5 6

That averages out to a whopping eight spot jump to the #4 spot on 2020’s list. He ranks as high as second on Matt’s list and as low as sixth on Shona and Pouzar’s lists. This range shows that Bear still has to win over a portion of the fanbase if he wants a guaranteed top spot on next year’s list.

With that, lets get into the thick of things...

Who Is Ethan Bear?:

As I mentioned off the top, the career of Ethan Bear has been anything but a straight line. Drafted 124th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015, there was some hope that Bear could one day feature as a capable two-way defender. He finished his draft year with 38 points in 69 games playing for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds which, while a decent amount, was nothing too exciting.

His next two seasons with Seattle is what earned his status among Edmonton’s prospect pool. Bear was an offensive machine, putting up a combined 135 points in his next 136 games after being drafted. This ranked him among of the highest scoring defenders in the WHL during those seasons.

He turned pro with the Bakersfield Condors in 2017/18 and even got his first taste of NHL hockey that year appearing in 18 games with the Oilers. He wasn’t able to translate those insane point totals to the professional level right away, scoring only 18 with the Condors and four with the Oilers. Overall, it was a successful rookie year for Bear. He looked like a capable defender who had the potential to be a useful player in the years to come.

Bear was expected to make a major push for a roster spot coming into training camp for the 2018/19 season. He had impressed the Oilers in his stint with the pro club the year prior and the expectation was that he would continue on that upward trajectory. Things didn’t go quite as planned, however. Bear had an unremarkable camp and, despite being brought to Sweden as part of the team’s Global Series season opener, he failed to appear in a single game with the Oilers.

It’s not like he took a complete step backwards, he put up a career high 31 points in Bakersfield, but it was concerning that he had seemingly become stagnant. Guys like Caleb Jones and Evan Bouchard made huge strides with stints of their own and Bear was quickly becoming irrelevant. This lead to him falling out of the top 10 of last year’s list.

Luckily, everything came together in time for the 2019/2020 season. Bear had an amazing camp and was able to crack the roster for the first time in his career. He was then trusted with top four minutes after Adam Larsson sustained an injury in the season opener. During this time we were able to see Bear’s true value to the team. He proved to be a smart defender capable of playing big minutes and moving the puck up the ice.

After being on the verge of fading into irrelevancy just a year ago; Ethan Bear is now a lock to play in the team’s top four this coming season.

Where Does He Go From Here?:

The biggest question mark that surrounds Bear is his next contract. He is currently an RFA and needs a contract soon if we are to believe the NHL’s latest start date of January 13th, 2021. The Oilers currently have no cap-space, but will surely make a move once they officially assign Oscar Klefbom’s $4.16 million to the LTIR.

As it stands, I am not too sure what Bear’s first non-ELC contract will look like. Logic would say that Ken Holland should try to add term, but I believe a short-term bridge deal is just as likely. We have no reason to believe that Bear will regress but the possibility is always on the table and Holland seems to err on the side of caution with his contracts in Edmonton (save for the Zack Kassian deal of course).

Once we have a deal set in stone you can expect Bear to suit up on the team’s first or second pairing, most likely next to Darnell Nurse. Time will tell if Bear can improve upon his ranking in time for the 2021 Top 25 Under 25.