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Edmonton Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear battles Colorado Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri during the second period of a NHL hockey game at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Nov. 14, 2019.
Edmonton Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear during NHL action on Oct. 16, 2019, against the Philadelphia Flyers at Rogers Place.
LOS ANGELES — Earlier in the season, Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett said rookie defenceman Ethan Bear hadn’t politely knocked on the door when opportunity came his way, he kicked the door down and walked right into playing 20 minutes a night in a pairing with Darnell Nurse.
Now, he’s getting a shot to run the power play from the point like rookie Quinn Hughes is doing in Vancouver, like Cale Makar’s doing in Colorado, one of whom’s going to win the Calder trophy.
It might not be for a long time because Oscar Klefbom will be back early next month after a procedure to clean up some debris in his shoulder. But after trying fellow left-shot D Nurse on the point, they’ll switch it up with the right-shot Bear against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Oilers lead the NHL in PP efficiency, almost 30 per cent, going against the grain with mostly five left-shot guys this season (Klefbom, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal before he sprained his ankle) but the right-shot Alex Chiasson has been net-front presence in Neal’s absence. But always a left-shot from the point on the first unit, until now.
It’s not like Bear is coming in from left-field. He ran the PP in junior in Seattle, and was usually out there in Bakersfield when he was in the AHL. But this is the NHL, so one more layer to his game.
His game has evolved into a top four role, a shutdown situation many nights. Now, he’ll get a shot at putting up NHL points, something he did with ease as a WHL junior in Seattle. He had 65 points one season, 70 the next with 47 goals over those two years.
“I’ve been watching this power play and it’s the best,” said Bear, who was on the second unit but barely getting any looks with the first unit playing at least 1:40 most nights. “I know the plays they want. I’ve watched them many times. It’s not like I haven’t done it (PP). I did it in junior, I did it a lot and in Bakersfield and I’ve seen Klef do it and Darnell with us.
“For sure this is an opportunity for me. Every player wants to be on the power play because it’s such a fun part of the game. I’ve had so much fun playing at this high level, trying to get better every day. This is an opportunityto embrace this, too. I’m playing with the best players in the world.
“I don’t think I’ve played on a power play with so many left shots. It’s easy for me to know where to pass the puck. They want it on their forehand.”
Oilers coach Dave Tippett doesn’t have to tinker much with a power play that scores about once every three tries. But, Bear will give them a different look.
“We’ll see how it goes with Ethan and Darnell. Obviously having Connor back adds a nice dimension,” said Tipppet. “But so does having a right-shot D when we’ve only had lefts (Oscar Klefbom and Nurse). When your passes are coming from the right side you have a one-timer option (shooter) and when the passes are coming from the left to the right side, it opens things up. Ethan can shoot it or send another pass.
“When Klefbom got hurt we used Nurse a bit because Gully (assistant coach Glen Gulutzan) had a history last year with Darnell when Oscar was out (broken finger). But Ethan has come along as a young player and he’s had a really good season. We’ll see how he handles this new situation,” said Tippett.
Giving Bear even more responsibility is a question mark, added minutes can mean added mistakes, or tired plays. The rookie is already playing 21 and-a-half minutes as Nurse’s partner and if there’s lots of power plays, he could be up to 25. But, it’s worth a look.
“That’s a concern (minutes) and there’s some match ups coming out of the power play too that you always look at. It’s really a feel as a coach depending on how the game’s going, how many power plays there are,” said Tippett.
Bear has 20 points on the season, two on the PP. Obviously having Draisaitl, who went into the Kings game with a league-leading 97 points, and McDavid, coming back after missing six games with a quad injury, as passing outlets makes it a joy for anybody on the point.
“Absolutely, other teams have to respect them. Just get them the puck, that’s easy,” said Bear, who also relishes shooting it with a lot of mustard to it..
McDavid certainly likes that part of his game.
“He’s able to get the shots through to the net,” he said.
“He’s able to change the angle (shot). I like that,” said Tippett.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020