Ethan Bear has played his 10th NHL game this season. That means that the Oilers were willing to let one year come off of his ELC. In the long-term, that means Bear will get a raise a year sooner and that he will be able to enter unrestricted free agency a year sooner.
In the short-term, that means that the Oilers are getting a good look at Ethan Bear at the NHL level. Bear has played well in the AHL this season, scoring 16 points in 34 games. Injuries and other circumstances surrounding Oilers defencemen late in the year have allowed Bear an opportunity to showcase his talents with the big club.
He has 2 assists in 10 games and has seen time with the top power play unit. I have had the opportunity to see him play live twice so far. He is already one of the best passers that the Oilers have. He moves the puck quickly and makes simple passes. He is also unafraid to shoot the puck. His -5 rating through 10 games is a sign that his defensive game needs work, which should be expected with a young player.
The Oilers are in need of a right-handed offensive defenceman that can run the power play with McDavid. Bear has certainly not looked out of place in the NHL so far. His success in his opportunity with the Oilers has the team and its fans wondering just what they have in Ethan Bear.
There have been some young defencemen to have sensational rookie seasons recently, including Zach Werenski and Shayne Gostisbehere. Some have come out of the CHL recently and made the jump into the NHL right away or after only having played in a few AHL games. The most notable of those players are Ivan Provorov and Mikhail Sergachev. These are good players to compare Bear to because they have had similar career paths so far. Here are their point totals in their last seasons of CHL hockey (in order of points per game in their final CHL year):
Provorov- 1.18 points per game
Bear- 1.04 (16 points in 34 games in the AHL the next year)
Here are their numbers in their first NHL seasons (in order of points per game in their rookie seasons):
Sergachev- 0.49 points per game
Provorov- 0.37, 0.47
Bear’s junior production was in the middle of what Provorov and Sergachev’s was. Provorov was more productive in junior, yet Sergachev was more productive at the NHL level. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Bear’s production next year could end up being similar to that of Provorov and Sergachev, which would be 30-40 points.
I thought that it would be interesting to do the same comparison of some of the NHL’s best current right-handed offensive defencemen that came out of the CHL: Kris Letang, Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, and PK Subban. Here are their numbers from junior (in order of points per game in their final CHL year:
Subban- 1.36 points per game (53 points in 77 games in the AHL the next year)
Here are their numbers in their first 3 NHL seasons (in order of points per game in their rookie seasons):
Pietrangelo- 0.54, 0.63, 0.51 points per game
Subban- 0.49, 0.44, 0.90
Doughty- 0.33, 0.72, 0.53
Letang- 0.27, 0.44, 0.37
Subban’s junior numbers were the best of the 8 players I’ve looked at. His NHL rookie production was the same as Sergachev’s have been this year. Sergachev’s junior numbers were the worst in the group. Bear’s ranked 5th. To me, that simply suggests that Sergachev is developing at a rapid pace. Bear’s junior production was better than Doughty’s, and Doughty had 27 points in his rookie year. Bear’s numbers were also lower than Letang’s in junior, and Letang was on pace for 22 points in his rookie year.
The one important observation I made when looking at these players was that Letang was drafted in the 3rd round, which was the lowest draft position of all of the current NHLers that I looked at. He also had the worst rookie season of the bunch. That result shouldn’t be much of a shock.
Bear was drafted in the 5th round. He has the benefit of having played in the AHL this season, and he will likely have played 19 NHL games prior to his rookie season; but it is still entirely realistic for Bear’s production next year to be lower than Letang’s was. It would be dangerous to assume that Bear would score 30-40 points simply because Provorov and Sergachev did. He could score anywhere from 20-40 points next year.
The other thing to note about the elite players I looked at is the fact that it took 3-4 years for these players to become elite. Bear has a great chance to become a very good offensive defenceman, and there is a chance that he becomes elite; but it will probably take 4 years for him to get there if it happens at all.
So the Oilers need a right-handed offensive defenceman for next season. Will it be acceptable if Bear plays and only gets 20 points? Are the Oilers and their fans patient enough to wait for Bear to develop? Or would they prefer to spend big money on an older free agent that would help the team more next season? Perhaps they want to trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to get their man? Only time will tell. All I know is that cap space will be a valuable commodity to Peter Chiarelli since McDavid and Draisaitl will cost $21 million going forward, and the patient approach taken with Letang and Doughty worked well for the Penguins and the Kings since they have a combined 5 Stanley Cups with those players. Food for thought.
*all stats in this piece were taken from hockeydb.com